Saturday, 14 October 2006

Now that Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty, Oct 14, 2006

 Now that Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty
by Richard Foreman
Malthouse Theatre

The Tower, Malthouse, Oct 14 to Oct 28, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The chaotic nature of Richard Foreman’s script, Now that Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty, is at its most effective in this production when the acting and direction are at their most controlled. 

When all the elements are out of control, the piece becomes an incomprehensible, loud and punishing theatrical mess.

Yes, Foreman purposely designed his award-winning theatrical form (He dubbed it “Ontonological-Hysteric Theatre”) to reflect the fragmentation of thought and the complex and diverse realities that are presented to us in the world, all of which can be perceived in different ways.

However, because there is no narrative and no consistent characterisation we, the inveterate meaning-makers, struggle to attend to the entire show. It becomes mentally exhausting so we abandon all hope of drawing its threads into a whole. My neighbour simply went to sleep.

Max Lyandvert, known best as a composer, not only directed and composed the soundscape, but he designed the set. He heightens the on stage chaos with random sounds of dogs barking, machine guns, white noise and voice overs. The constantly changing set of chairs, boxes, white paper and small scaffold towers is accentuated by Luiz Pampholha’s (OK) severe and dramatic lighting.

The play is described as a satire but a great deal of comedy in the script that is missed by Lyandvert. Fred (Benjamin Winspear) and Freddie’s (Gibson Nolte) interaction resembles the absurdist comedy of Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon and other clown duos. However, the jokes fly by unacknowledged or inadequately explored and the grotesque comedy sometimes becomes simply ugly.

The actors work very hard in this play. Their work is often stylised and contained but becomes more hysterical as the play continues, but there is too much shouting and the thumping of their running feet on the floor of  The Tower becomes annoying.

There are resonances of the chaos that followed the Fall of Communism, of the McCarthy trials and of revolution. The most sustained image, unfortunately, is of a blow-up sex doll that becomes a real woman (Rebecca Smee). She is disturbingly described as a dog, kept in a box, chained, gagged and bandaged, mysteriously appearing and disappearing, silent and servile.

Given that Foreman is a much-awarded writer in both the US and France, perhaps there is more theatrical merit in this play than is apparent in this production.

By Kate Herbert

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