Wednesday, 25 May 2005

Decoupage Skin by Michelle Griffiths, May 25, 2005

Decoupage Skin  by Michael Griffith
La Mama, from May 25, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on May 25, 2005

Both writing and performing a solo play are enormous challenges. Decoupage Skin, written by Michael Griffith, is only partially successful on both counts.

Jennifer Andersen plays Helen, a woman married with two children. We see her anxiously awaiting the return of her husband and sons after a soccer game.

As she waits Helen addresses the audience directly, almost conversationally, as if she is peeling back the layers of her skin, revealing for us the underlying flaws or truth.

Helen's decoupage or cut out collage skin cover is not complete. It has cracks and peeling edges.

Griffith writes Helen as a woman living a veiled, even disguised existence, an uneventful life that she wishes to be more dramatic, even tragic.

She secretly hopes that her entire family is killed in a car crash on the way home from soccer. She reveals that, in spite of her inability to grieve over her youthful abortion, she faked grief, tears and even her subsequent mental breakdown.

As a seemingly harmless and trustworthy teenager, she was secretly a thief and a compulsive liar. As an adult she fantasises about leaving polaroids of her genitals secreted amongst the frozen foods in the supermarket.

Helen is clearly troubled but manages to live a superficially normal life shielded by her capacity for lying.

Barbara Ciszewska, directs Andersen's performance in and around a contraption shaped like the inner framework of a huge crinoline.

 Those sections placed inside the frame are the most effective. When she runs or stands outside it the space is cramped and Andersen's movement awkward and constrained.

Griffith's writing has some witty observations and interesting moments but the dialogue is often uncomfortable and the through line of the narrative incoherent. The character becomes muddled and the intention unclear.

Andersen engages the audience often but there is a disconcerting shrillness to the performance that keeps reminding us that is an actor, not a character we are witnessing. There is little emotional connection with Helen. In fact, Griffith paints her as a rather dislikeable person.

 Decoupage Skin is not without merit but the various components of the piece does not quite make an effective whole.

By Kate Herbert

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