Thursday, 29 May 2008

Yes by OpticNerve, May 29, 2008 ****

Yes by OpticNerve
adapted from film by Sally Potter

Where and When: fortyfivedownstairs, May 29 to June 8, 2008

Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 4

Yes, directed by Tanya Gerstle, makes the stage sexy and dangerous. 

It is a beautifully wrought, physical adaptation of Sally Potter’s post-September 11 film about a passionate love affair between a very blonde, 40ish, white Irish-American woman (Meredith Penman) and a Lebanese immigrant (Grant Cartwright).

The performance style is non-naturalistic but the narrative of this clandestine sexual relationship is always clear. The space is open and empty, the characters surrounded by huge calico drapes that become part of the action.

The lithe and youthful ensemble - all graduates of VCA, Melbourne - appear in black underwear, dressing and undressing as they transform into character. Penman has a luminous quality and she captures the sense of a woman who surrenders control as she is freed from frustrated desire. As her lover, Cartwright is seductive and fervent, although his fair colouring is not quite credible as a Middle Eastern man.

Public and private places, exotic or homely locations are all created impressionistically rather than realistically. A metal hospital gurney carries the woman’s dying aunt. War torn Lebanon is evoked when the Man – who was a surgeon in Lebanon – recalls the execution of one of his patients. The couple’s ardent lovemaking is like a dance as they roll, entwined on every available surface.

Although the focus is on the secret lovers, others are affected. The woman’s relationship with her husband (Gary Abrahams) is distant and cold. She betrays him but he too is having an affair – with his wife’s best friend (Anne-Louise Sarks). Meanwhile, the Lebanese lover struggles with the prejudices of his co-workers and his lover deals with the death of her beloved Irish aunt (Penman).

A Cleaner (Ella Watson-Russell,) like a Greek Chorus, comments upon the action, drawing parallels between the dirt in our homes and the secrets and lies in our messy lives. She and others surprise us by speaking in rhyming couplets, particularly during the most passionate and angry exchanges.

The unfolding of the affair reveals more global issues about religion, politics and sexuality. The culture clash between the liberal West and the Islamic East is epitomised in this meeting of two people.

By Kate Herbert

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