Friday, 14 January 2011

Don Parties On ***

Don Parties On 
By David Williamson, Melbourne Theatre Company
Where and When: Playhouse, Arts Centre, until February 12, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***

Don’s Party, by David Williamson, divided critics and audiences in 1972. His sequel, Don Parties On, will split opinion again. Forty years on, characters from Don’s (Garry McDonald) boozy, wife-swapping, 1969 Federal Election party, return to recapture – or obliterate – their shared past. There is no escaping comparisons – and the new play comes off second best.

In the original play, outrageous bawdiness, crass humour, Australian vernacular and swearing created a confrontational, social document of left-leaning, young, middle-class couples hoping for election success for Gough Whitlam’s progressive Labour Party.

Don Parties On is set on the night of the 2010 Federal Election. Don, a former high school counsellor and failed novelist, hosts another election party.  He and his formerly bolshie, lefty mates have aged – but not very gracefully. Their boozing, bullying, belligerent arguments and sexism are no longer excusable as youthful exuberance.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud jokes but the play lacks heart and substance, and the dialogue often sounds like political editorial.

Don’s Party cunningly balanced bawdy humour with scathing social observations, personal conflicts and sympathy. Don Parties On lacks its rawness, energy and dramatic tension. The lack of a clear, narrative structure and dramatic climax – which worked for the original play – makes this play repetitive and directionless. Personal conflict does not equate to dramatic conflict. One wonders why anyone stays after such furious personal attacks and crises.

Robyn Nevin directs a talented, vivacious cast who revel in the broad comedy. McDonald plays Don with a jaded, nostalgic air and Tracy Mann plays his long-suffering wife, Kath. Robert Grubb gains sympathy as Mal, a boozy, failed businessman.

Sue Jones relishes playing Jenny, a tough, judgmental Labour politician, bearing a grudge for decades. Frankie J. Holden uses plenty of slapstick as the ailing Cooley, a sad echo of the irresistibly seductive, young Cooley. Diane Craig is cool and elegant as Helen.

The oldies’ checkered pasts are viewed through the eyes of younger generations: Richard (Darren Gilshenan), Don’s childish son, whose marriage is falling apart, his histrionic lover (Nikki Shiels), and stroppy daughter (Georgia Flood).

Like the Liberal and Labour spokespersons, these Baby Boomers revel in each other’s misfortunes and trumpet their own successes.  Their lives suffered as many changes as the Australian government. If election analyst, Anthony Greene, charted their paths, they would be complicated, miserable and incomprehensible. They are a relentlessly dislikeable bunch.

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