Thursday, 9 December 1999

Reserved Seating Only, Dec 9, 1999

Adapted by David Paterson from Peter B. Sonenstein
At La Mama until December 19, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It is very easy to avoid exposure to theatre in Melbourne but it is virtually impossible to ignore football.

Perhaps the hilarious collision of these two forms of entertainment in Reserved Seating Only might haul a new audience into the theatre. As Al says (Ross Williams) "football has drama, tragedy, suspense and improvisation."

Melbourne actor, David Paterson, has written a very clever and thorough adaptation of Sonenstein's American play about baseball. He has transposed the story into Aussie Rules land and the MCG springs to life with the first game of the season: Bombers versus Doggies.

Although a third actor appears occasionally, (Paul Laverack) this is essentially a two-hander involving yet another collision of unlike creatures. Al is a fanatical Bombers fan with a reserved member's seat.

He is shocked and appalled to find an unfamiliar woman (Cecilia Specht) usurping the season's seat beside him. She scored the ticket in her divorce from Al's footy neighbour of ten years. She hates football, so why is she there?

In spite of its total focus on a football match, the play is less about footy than it is about myopic prejudice about sports, relationships, gender - in fact, about difference. Men are obsessed about sport. The woman does not understand the attraction and feels ignored and abandoned.

Paterson peppers the sweet burgeoning friendship between Al and Trina, with outbursts of comical Aussie barracking and umpire abuse: "You white maggot," screams Al.

There are rituals which include a pie and a beer at half-time, and unwritten rules such as never putting up a brolly no matter how wet its gets and not questioning your own team's free kick.

Ross Williams is exceptional as Al. In a very detailed emotional performance, he captures the naive, vulnerable, ordinary man who is totally confused by this alien woman and her misdirected anger. He is warm, loyal and willing to teach her about his game.

Specht is an appropriate foil to William's raucous fan. She plays Trina as  a rather petulant, stitched-up critic.

Director, Richard Sarell, has allowed the characters to live but he could have tightened the pace in parts to overcome some awkward moments. His direction lacks theatricality but the play comes to life in the small space at La Mama.

by Kate Herbert

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