Wednesday, 25 August 1999

Burnt Piano, Aug 25, 1999

 by Justin Fleming
 MTC at Fairfax Studio until September 25, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If works of art were star sign, which would you choose to be born under? Mona Lisa? Too elusive. Hamlet? Too depressive. If you were born under Waiting for Godot, would that make you an absurdist?

Justin Fleming was born on the day Samuel Beckett's Godot opened: January 3, 1953. Burnt Piano, is the outcome of his imaginative exploration of a woman so obsessed with this same coincidence of her own birth, that she stalks poor old Beckett for years.

Karen (Catherine Wilkin) has written innumerable unanswered letters. Finally, in Paris with her father, Pete (Bob Hornery), she sends her son, Jonah (Darcy Bonser) to deliver her missive into which she has poured her whole life.

He meets both Ma and Pa Beckett (Patricia Connolly, Dennis Olsen) who dismiss him. However, he reads mum's letter and discovers that she has betrayed his secrets too.

The play is a study of the dynamics of this family in grief over the death of another son in a fire. "It's not my fault," pleads Jonah, the survivor, echoing the words of the messenger boy in Godot to Vladimir and Estragon. References to Godot are thick on the ground.

Kate Cherry directs the production simply and stylishly on a sleek set by Hugh Colman. Ben Cobham's lighting is evocative and live piano-playing, (Olsen, Connolly) provides the emotion lacking in the text.

Fleming's script is inclined to be glib, almost clinical in style when not being witty. His characters elicit little sympathy. They present arguments, which reflects Fleming's other life as a barrister.

"Beckett is arguably the best writer of the 20th century," challenges Karen. Dad argues the point - and all others. Pete is recalcitrant, bluff and, a writer himself, more interested in plot than form, unlike Beckett.

 Karen is relentless, self-centred and not very motherly. Her dialogue lacks variation. In fact, the men seem to get all the great lines. Hornery milks his very funny dialogue and Olsen revels in Beckett's mild Irish cynicism. It is ironic that Beckett, the reclusive, publicity-shy writer, communicates most clearly in this play.

The second half of the play is more engaging and contains the best scene: a witty word play between the Becketts over a game of chess. It seems appropriate given that Beckett seems to play chess inside his own mind in his writing.

by Kate Herbert

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