Tuesday, 8 June 1999

The Picnic by Tom Petsinis, 18 June 1999

La Mama at Victoria University E Theatre until June 20, 1999

The migrant experience provides great material for narrative in the theatre as do the ancient Greek myths. Playwright, Tom Petsinis, has attempted, unsuccessfully, to marry the two in a story that draws, in a circuitous fashion, on the story of Penelope and her son Telemachus, who were abandoned by Ulysses during the Trojan War.

Petsinis's earlier play, The Drought, found a more effective mode of applying to a contemporary tragedy, the ancient Greek theatrical convention of the singing /dancing chorus. The Picnic emerges as melodrama, not tragedy, complete with a cap pistol.

The parallels with the Ulysses myth are tenuous. Petro Belos (Simon Karamitan) came to Australia 20 years ago and changed his name to Pete Bell. He abandoned his wife and son when he remarried bigamously. 20 years later, his son comes hunting his father and revenge. The play ends with a death; whose is unclear.

Script problems are compounded by unimaginative and clumsy direction by Petsinis. Another problem is the casting of only three professional actors (Ian Scott, Maria Limberis, Julie Campbell) who perform with great commitment and virtuosity.

The remainder of the cast comprises Victoria University students and amateur actors from the Greek community. All of these performers are keen but are limited in skill and range.

This is not strictly community theatre. It is not developed nor exclusively performed by the Greek community nor does it tell stories of specific members of the community. It cannot, then, be viewed as a community theatre project so its flaws must be assessed in the cold light of day.

There are too many songs played and sung by band and singer (Triandafilos Nicolpoulos, Paul Glouftsis, Chris Roikov, Marion Stojanovski). The lyrics are unclear and the singer, although in fine voice, cannot adequately replacement the power and poetry of a Greek chorus.

The accompaniment of all songs by a chain of Geek dancers is, initially, charmingly folkloric but becomes tired and predictable. For the first 45 minutes, there is absolutely no dramatic action. The first high point is Limberis as Granny in Greece followed by Scott's compelling poetic monologue as "the actor".

Limberis is hilarious as a raving Greek woman and Scott is moving as the senile old Uncle who is looking for his stolen dreams. Campbell is credible as the jealous and frightened second wife, Stella.

The production is simply a sandwich short of the full picnic.

By Kate Herbert

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