Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Three Oaks, Aug 23, 2008 **1/2

Three Oaks
By Monica Raszewski
Where and When: La Mama, Aug 27 to Aug 10, 2008
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 2 & 1/2

Three Oaks, by Monica Raszewski, depicts a Polish immigrant family in Australia and their cultural heritage. It is also about memory and how members of the same family reframe their pasts to suit their own needs and insecurities.

Raszewski’s script is expressionistic and is sometimes more like prose than theatrical writing. In this abstract form, times and places overlap and characters speak simultaneously from differing perspectives, locations and periods in their lives. Although this is sometimes confusing, it creates a tapestry of past images and allows the past to resonate in the present.

The focus is on Janek (Adam Pierzchalski OK) the father of the family and a landscape painter. His older daughter, Margaret (Zoe Ellerton-Ashley) becomes obsessed with finding any remnants of Janek’s life. In particular, she seeks a painting depicting three oak trees in a forest in Poland which she visited as a child with her sister, Alex (Emily Taylor), Janek and his lover, Alice (Fiona Macys).

 Director, Kimberley Grigg, creates an evocative and intimate landscape in the tiny La Mama space. The floor is strewn with pine needles and old wooden ladders climb to the ceiling creating a frame for the space (design: Marc Raszewski). The ladders serve multiple purposes. They are used as chairs, windows or picture frames and characters perch high on them, observing the action below, giving the impression of a watchful chorus or intrusive ancestors.

There is a strong sense of ensemble but the quality of the acting is uneven and some characters sound awkward speaking the abstract language. Olga Makeeva gives a potent and restrained performance as Krystyna (OK) the mother of the two girls and abandoned wife of Janek.  Her portrayal has intensity and complexity and she handles the poetic form with ease.

The action is underscored by accordion music played by Pierzchalski. Polish songs give context to the history of the family and the drone of the accordion also evokes a mysterious atmosphere.

Lengthy blackouts seem to be used to cover entrances and exits of actors but they reduce the dramatic impact of scenes and interrupt the rhythm of the show.

The issues arising about family, memory and heritage provide some challenging issues for the VCE students who are studying this splay in Theatre Studies.


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