Saturday, 7 October 2006

Controlled Crying by Ron Elisha, Oct, 7 2006

Controlled Crying by Ron Elisha
Chapel off Chapel, October 7 to 29, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Parenting never ends, as witnessed in Ron Elisha’s play, Controlled Crying.

With increasing discomfort, we watch Libby (Margot Knight) and Oscar (Paul English) struggle to cope with the changing demands and increasing pressures upon them as their daughter, Millie, grows from infancy to adulthood.

Elisha’s dialogue is often hilarious. It shifts from witty repartee, gags and jibes to poignant, although sometimes less successful, arguments and self-doubting monologues.

Director, Ailsa Piper, necessarily keeps the focus on the couple’s relationship and on the humour of their interactions.

Knight plays Libby as a maddening, highly-strung, worrywart who constantly tips the equilibrium of the relationship with her frantic behaviour, criticism and unnecessary fears.

As the badgered Oscar, English is restrained and keen to please. We can see the cogs turning as he tries in vain to understand his wife’s hysterical ranting.

The entire play takes place in the couple’s bedroom over thirty years. The difficulties of parenthood are only beginning when the play opens with the two perched anxiously on their bed, checking a stop watch and listening to their new baby’s wrenching sobs from the other room. They are unsuccessfully practising “controlled crying”, a process familiar to sleep-deprived new parents.

Millie remains an off-stage character although we come to know her intimately. She is an only child with a few problems: bedwetting, unpopularity and mediocre academic performance. She experiments with dope as a teenager, chooses her boyfriends, and perhaps even her husband, unwisely.

We sympathise as the parents panic about Millie’s first day of kinder, agonise over sending their confirmed bed-wetter on a school camp and over her insignificant role in The Wizard of Oz.

Each new period of Millie’s young life initiates a brand new series of anxieties for her beleaguered and self-flagellating parents.

What is evident is that the pair concentrates so much energy on Millie that they almost miss their entire relationship with each other. By the time Millie is married and Oscar retired at 60, Libby and Oscar are at each other’s throats, unwilling to recognise their patterns of evasion and neurosis. Oscar is gone before they have had a life together.

Some of the final less humorous scenes are a little laboured and the frequent changes of bed linen to indicate time passing are totally unnecessary and annoying. However, Controlled Crying is entertaining identification theatre for anyone with growing or grown kids.

By Kate Herbert

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