Thursday, 7 December 2006

Vignettes & Reminiscences, Daniel Kahans, Dec 6, 2006

Vignettes and Reminiscences by Daniel Kahans
La Mama, Wed & Sun 6.30pm, Thurs to Sat 8pm until Dec 17, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Daniel Kahans’ Vignettes and Reminiscences, directed by Jill Kahans, is an odd collection of writings. It comprises twenty pieces, all only minutes in duration, but the evening does not make a theatrical whole.

Many pieces are snippets of Kahan’s poetic writings presented in a superficially theatrical mode, that is, they are spoken, sung or danced. Kahans is a retired psychiatrist and his themes range from the more serious topics of depression (Frozen and Seized, Severe Endogenous Depression), Jewish orthodoxy (Talmudist) and Islamic martyrdom (Suicide Bomber) to simple domestic or pastoral themes (Lullaby, Warrandyte, Pied Butcher Bird).

Although most are densely worded and earnest there are some that are quirky and two that rely on dance or movement (Tango with Two Women, Sorrow in Spanish).

Kahans’ poetry is often so florid and cryptic that the meaning is impenetrable and we find ourselves floundering in a sea of complex language and images. Warrandyte is perhaps the most accessible piece with its gentle musings on semi-rural landscape.

Other vignettes are more successful by being sung, allowing the words to become musical and the meaning to be less central to the performance. Julian Wilson, in his rich bass baritone, intones Elegie while dressed as a priest who bemoans his guilty sins and mortifies his flesh with words. David Lawson-Smith hums Lullaby to a baby and Rosalynd Smith imitates, rather awkwardly, a butcherbird’s call.

In a dialogue-based scene, a young woman (Sarah Hamilton) shrieks and writhes her way through an actor’s nightmare audition. The wild overacting became comical here – perhaps unintentionally.

The acting is very uneven and the direction unimaginative. With such short pieces, the scene changes need to be crisp, theatrical and efficient but they are often clumsy. The actors look uncomfortable and members of the ensemble are either underacting or grossly overacting.

Alicia Benn-Lawler’s dance in Sorrow in Spanish seems out of context in this show but it is has some interesting movement. The final tirade, called Funding Cuts to a Throbbing Theatre (Emily Nisman), is a speech about saving La Mama from its Australia Council funding review. Preaching to the audience of converted may not be the most useful political action.

This show lacks a consistent style or form and the writing and direction lack theatricality.

By Kate Herbert

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