Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Menagerie, May 17, 2013 **1/2

Daniel Schlusser Ensemble, supported by NEON, MTC
The Lawler Studio, MTC, until May 26, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on May 26
This review published in Herald Sun online on May 24, 2013. KH

 Edwina Wren in Menagerie. Photo by Sarah Walker
The inspiration for Menagerie is American playwright, Tennessee Williams, and, although it has moments of insight and clarity, many funny, absurd or playful moments and some poignant and dangerous reflections, Menagerie falls short of illuminating Williams’ chequered life and extraordinary writing.

Directed by Daniel Schlusser, Menagerie is not a deconstructed version of a Williams’ play, although it includes echoes of the family from The Glass Menagerie and scraps of dialogue and themes from his major plays.

In a shabby, paint-peeling, weatherboard shack (Dale Ferguson), a trailer-trash family bickers and scratches out a desperate existence surrounded by the detritus of poverty and disillusionment: car tyres, wheely bins, empty bourbon bottles and a battered paddling pool.

There are several layers of reality in the piece; the actors play characters that reflect Williams and his real family, then portray Tom, his sister and mother from The Glass Menagerie, and later in the piece, play themselves, using their own names.

The piece is peppered with lyrical moments and eccentric characters that reflect idiosyncratic elements of William’s style and story, and these are performed with commitment and energy by a talented cast of six.

A highlight is Jane Badler’s formidable, brassy, predatory Southern mother in her tattered nightdress, as she harps at her dissolute son and bewildered daughter.

Josh Price’s booze-addled portrayal of the flamboyantly gay Tennessee himself as he attempts to seduce a young man, is compelling.

Edwina Wren poignantly captures the tragedy of Tennessee’s damaged, repressed and mentally ill sister, who is recognisable from her sexually inappropriate behaviour.

Karen Sibbing, Kevin Hofbauer and Zahra Newman entertainingly depict multiple characters including: Williams’ lover, Frank; Maria, a mediocre actress who managed Williams’ estate; and Ozzie his family’s maid.

Perhaps the production retains more material than necessary from the improvisational, script development stage, and this leaves it opaque and somewhat aimless for the first 20 minutes.

We are meaning-makers, so an audience – particularly one that does not know Williams’ work and life well – will spend too much time trying to make sense of the imagery, references, excerpts and the sometimes inaudible and incomprehensible dialogue.

Deconstruction can be effective in expanding or modernising a story or play, but this piece has not critically engaged with its material and perhaps arrived on stage before it was ready or, at least, before the company could check that its intention was clear in performance.

By Kate Herbert

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