Monday, 1 February 2010

Acts of Deceit (Between Strangers in a Room) ****

Acts of Deceit (Between Strangers in a Room) 
By Gary Abrahams, Dirty Theatre
La Mama Courthouse, until Feb 7, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Published in Herald Sun 

The title of Gary Abrahams play tells all; people wall themselves up in dingy Parisian rooms where they deceive themselves and each other. They may be lovers, but they remain strangers in crucial ways because of their dishonesty. 

The script, adapted loosely from James Baldwin’s novella, Giovanni’s Room, is a densely written and emotionally taxing, romantic tragedy, although it initially disguises itself as a coming out in Paris story set in the 1950s.

The production has complex, layered acting. David (Jay Bowen) is a decorative but confused, young American living in Paris to find himself – and waiting for his father to send the money he desperately needs. He waits for his girl, Hella (Joanne Trentini), a brisk, progressive miss and another American child of the wealthy. 

Hella travels Spain to consider David’s marriage proposal. Everything goes pear-shaped by the time she comes back to gay Paris; it is much more gay than when she left – and so is her fiance.

While visiting a bar with his jaded, older friend, Jacques (Dion Mills), David meets Ku-Jean (Terry Yeboah), a lusciously attractive, African refugee. David spends the night, and the next several months, at Ku-Jean’s cheap, grubby room.

The play raises issues including love and lust, sexual attraction, sexual preference and what is considered perversion. It spotlights the profound guilt of the deceitful and the despair of the closeted and raises oppressive roles imposed upon women in mid-20th century marriage. There are also some ironic references to Americans being pure and happy people from a safe land with no murderers.

Bowen gives an accomplished performance as David, balancing passion with poignant despair while Yeboah is passionate and thrilling as the beautiful, exotic Ku-Jean. Abrahams directs their loves scenes tastefully and sensitively.

Trentini takes us on Hella’s roller coaster ride, beginning as a brusque, smart, independent woman but sliding into a drunken funk when she realises her life with David is collapsing and she is facing a lonely marriage. Mills captures the world-weariness of Jacques in his barely perceptible sneer and his slow, cat-like gait. Zoe Ellerton-Ashley, as the raddled, young American, Sue, has a disconsolate feel lying just below her artificial cheer.

Acts of Deceit could benefit from some editing and a less cluttered design, but it is a rich and well-acted production.

By Kate Herbert

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