Thursday, 27 May 1999

The Dogs Play and A Few Roos Short in the Top Paddock, 27 May 1999

by Tee O'Neill.
 Playbox at Beckett Theatre until June, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The short play is not necessarily easier or simpler to write than the full length.

It requires the same sense of dramatic structure and style, clarity of characterisation and theme. In fact, it can be more difficult to provide a complete vision in a shorter time while still finding layers of sub-text and depth of meaning.

Only one of Tee O'Neill's two short plays goes any distance to achieving these dramatic goals. The Dogs Play is a grim, vaudevillian piece that attempts to address issues of childhood rape, sexual precociousness, prostitution and abuse.

A barking clan of dogs. (Ben Rogan, Matthew Quartermaine, Tracey Harvey, Ross Daniels) constantly circle the central character, Jenna (Melita Jurisic). They scuffle and gambol on the dirt floor set, (designed by Leon Salom), teasing and taunting their mistress, Jenna.

The actors, in almost cartoon dog suits with black puppy noses and floppy ears, also play the male clients of Jenna, the adult hooker. They flip from playground humour to outrageously sexist bar room jokes and from physical gags to stylised but grotesque sexual abuse.

David Bell's direction is swift and the actors, most of whom are stand-up comics, make a cohesive ensemble with impeccable comic timing. Ross Daniels particularly, has an hilarious range of mad characters. Jurisic provides a fine haunting quality that is accentuated by David Murray's evocative lighting.

However, the play just wanders around getting nowhere in the end. We are virtually unshockable these days, so its overt sexual scenes and gross jokes are adolescent rather than confronting.

The first play in the program, A Few Roos Short in the Top Paddock, is confused. Giant kangaroos and a female commando-pest exterminator invade a corporate couple's suburban home. Rather than exploring an absurdist style, the play is just plain silly and looks like a 40 minute under-graduate revue sketch.

The actor struggle to make sense of the narrative and dialogue comprised of platitudes and very poor gags. There is very little to recommend this piece. The Dogs Play would have been better off alone on stage.

A short play can provide a crystalised vision. Tee O'Neill's two plays struggle to achieve this.

by Kate Herbert

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