Saturday, 23 March 2013

Penelope, Red Stitch, March 22, 2013 **1/2

By Enda Walsh
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
Theatre Works March 22 to April 12, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 22
Stars: **1/2
 Review published in Herald Sun, online on Mon Mar 25. Will appear in print some time after this date. KH

In this uneven production of Irish playwright, Enda Walsh’s black comedy, Penelope, a capable cast is thwarted by Alister Smith’s overwrought, often unwieldy direction that does not effectively balance the comical and dramatic elements in the script.
L-R: Dion Mills, Matthew Whitty, Lyall Brooks & James Wardlaw. Photo: Jodie Hutchinson 
Walsh’s play is an absurd, modern depiction of the predicament of the suitors of Penelope (Rosie Lockhart), who wait for her to choose a lover to replace her absent husband, Ulysses, who left for the Trojan Wars 20 years earlier.

Walsh’s four, hapless wooers, dressed in Speedos, spend dull, interminable, futile days languishing and arguing in the drained swimming pool below Penelope’s window, hoping to avoid the cruel fate of her previous 96 suitors, and to win her love.

These motley clowns – caricatures rather than fully-formed characters – epitomise the worst traits of male behaviour in their jealous, competitive interactions, their unwillingness to trust each other or to reveal their true and sensitive natures.

The play starts slowly with a long scene punctuated with weighty, ineffectual pauses while the actors wander aimlessly around the cluttered, junkyard space of the swimming pool designed by Peter Mumford.

After a messy beginning, the suitors’ dark, introspective and impassioned monologues about love provide the most compelling and successful dramatic moments.

Lyall Brooks provides comic highlights with his slapstick antics and comic characterisation of Quinn, the bullyboy poseur, and his grim narration of his dream is a cruel prophecy of their violent fate.

James Wardlaw is a clever comic actor but, in this instance, as the drugged-out, nervous Fitz, his most powerful moment is his heartfelt love speech to Penelope.

Dion Mills plays the challenging role of Dunne, which requires him to perform with relentlessly annoying campery until his final, honest and moving personal revelations.

Matthew Whitty, as Burns, the neat freak and whipping boy for the others, is the first to unmask any sincere feelings about the bond he formed with his departed friend, whose blood he desperately scrubs from the walls.

Lockhart, as Penelope, is elegant, unattainable and silent as she poses behind sheer curtains, floating like an angel above their heads, but her presence is incidental.

Too often, Smith pushes the comedy into clumsy slapstick, giving it an awkward, stop-start rhythm, his actors often shout rather than play genuine emotions, and ultimately Smith’s production does not do justice to either his actors or Walsh’s script.

By Kate Herbert

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