Monday, 3 July 2017
Heart Is A Wasteland, July 1, 2017 ***
Written by John Harvey, by Brown Cabs Productions and Malthouse Theatre
At Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, until July 16, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 1, 2017
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon July 3, 2017 and later in print. KH
Ursula Yovitch, Aaron Pedersen - Photo by Deryk McAlpin
Heart Is A Wasteland is John Harvey’s debut as a playwright and, despite the undoubted quality of the actors and the dramatic potential of its premise, this script is not yet ready for the stage.
Harvey describes his play as ‘a road trip, a crazy, black love story set over a few nights’, and when Raye (Ursula Yovich) meets Dan (Aaron Pedersen), the encounter between this seemingly mismatched pair rapidly becomes intense, lustful and increasingly fraught.
Pedersen is startling, compelling, totally credible and fully immersed in his role as the damaged, uncouth but endearing and sometimes inarticulate Dan, who was a youth worker but now works in the mines and nurses a sad secret.
Yovich is warm, sassy and seductive as Raye, a struggling, solo country music singer doing poorly-paid gigs in pubs on the desert highways as she heads to Alice Springs where she will visit her 10 year-old son, Elvis, who now lives with Raye’s mother.
Playing an acoustic guitar and accompanied by musician, Anna Liebzeit, Yovich sings several original songs (by Lydia Fairhall) capturing the melancholy tone and heartache of the country music song with her rich and sometimes thrilling voice.
Yovich and Pedersen work tirelessly to communicate the story of these two characters who are trying to glue together the shards of their fractured lives and who both seek solace, passion and distraction in the arms of a stranger.
The two actors valiantly persevere with dialogue that is initially entertainingly colloquial but then veers into awkwardly poetic monologues and sudden snatches of didactic, socio-political commentary that make Dan and Raye mouthpieces for issues that are not effectively integrated into their characters.
Harvey’s play has the potential to be a passionate love story that also has a message about the damage done to the land and to the Indigenous peoples of Australia – a message that could be an allegory for Dan and Raye’s own psychic injuries – but the message and the narrative are not cohesive.
The two characters are not fully developed, their back stories seem bolted on, their relationship does not fully explore its potential and, ultimately, the ending is unsatisfying and leaves narrative threads unfinished or unexplored.
Harvey and his director, Margaret Harvey, who is also his sister and collaborator, have worked in the film industry, and Margaret Harvey incorporates film (Desmond Connellan) into this stage production to create locations such as the lonesome highway filmed from overhead, and to overlay the dialogue with imagery.
Unfortunately, the projections distract attention from the actors rather than enhancing the scenes and the stage direction is static, leaving the actors sitting awkwardly on boxes, pretending to be in a car and relying on dialogue and background film to provide any action or sense of place.
Much of the beauty, mystery and magic of theatre relies on the non-literal evocation of place or atmosphere through set design, colour, lighting or soundscape, but Heart Is A Wasteland does little of this.
There is much to recommend Heart is A Wasteland but the script needs a radical overhaul and rewriting for it to reach its potential.
By Kate Herbert