Tuesday, 2 August 2005

Construction of the Human Heart by Ross Mueller, Aug 2, 2005

 Construction of the Human Heart by Ross Mueller
 Store Room,  August  2 to 21, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 2, 2005

Construction of the Human Heart, by Ross Mueller, employs an inventive form to tell the story of a marriage in tatters.

The Man (Todd MacDonald) and Woman (Fiona MacLeod), seated in an empty space, read their lines from what appears to be a rehearsal script, complete with bulldog clip, dog-eared pages and highlighted dialogue.

Initially, we wonder whether this is a play reading rather than a production. Slowly we realise that the actors and characters, the script and reality are blending and splitting, bleeding into each other to create a complex dual reality.

A voice over provides scene settings and stage directions, forcing us out of the story and back into the construction of a play.

The characters' story is that both husband and wife are writers. She is the more successful. His career is at a standstill as he awaits a big break into television writing.

He compares her to a combination of Elle McPherson and Stephen Hawking: brains and beauty. She, unflatteringly, says he is the lovechild of Elvis Costello and Elvis Presley: a backhanded compliment.

But what lies at the heart of their dysfunction is the haunting presence of their dead child. Each recounts memories of the child. The woman remembers driving past a cemetery where her mother was buried. The man remembers reading the child's favourite book, Where the Wild Things Are.

Mueller uses the reading of the dialogue as a metaphor of a couple caught in the replay of the "script' of their relationship to highlight their alienation from each other. It emphasises the mechanical, unemotional layer that is superimposed upon their grief and loss.

As the play advances, the scripts are tossed - literally - and the pair struggles to communicate as their marriage disintegrates.

MacDonald is passionate and moving as the distraught husband. As his wife, MacLeod effectively portrays a woman with a cool surface masking her profound underlying pain.

Director, Brett Adam, keeps the staging simple and focuses on the relationship and the form of Mueller's play. We are constantly confronted with the fact that we are watching actors but we are simultaneously drawn into the trauma of the characters.

Construction of the Human Heart is a fascinating study in form and style that works on most levels.

By Kate Herbert

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