Wednesday 27 January 1999

Mates by Tom Lindstrom, 27 Jan 1999

 La Mama at The Courthouse from 26 Jan 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Some old blokes talk about the war. Others stay mute. The three battered old veterans of Changi in Tom Lindstrom's play, Mates, reminisce incessantly. The only worthy interruptions to their chain of memories are a swig of Glenfiddich or the threat of incontinence

The characters and their stories are engaging, if repetitive. It is Anzac Day, 1991. Stan (Cliff Ellen) lies in a private hospital room awaiting an operation to confirm his death sentence: liver cancer it seems. But no digger who marches each year can let the day pass without seeing his mates.

His best mate, Streaky Bacon (John Flaus) appears with a surprise visitor. Sunny (Malcolm Robertson) is well off, pissed off and smells off because of his bowel condition. They are the Musketeers, quips Sunny: Athos, Pathos and Bathos.

Mates, directed by Melanie Beddie and Malcolm Robertson, was originally written for the "Australia Remembers" celebrations. It is character- rather than plot- driven, having very little narrative development Lindstrom relies on the revelation of relationships between characters and the war stories which have obsessed them for 47 years since they were dumped on our shores by our government which was as insensitive to its soldiers at the end of the war as it was at the beginning.

Sunny, played with a fine blend of passion and humour by Robertson, is a tyrannical, tragic, misogynistic, almost brutish boozer who lost his special mate during the war. He rants at the injustice of Streaky and Stan still having each other.

Streaky we know mostly as Stan's mate. He is reflected through the eyes of his friend who faces his own last weeks. Flaus portrays his humanity and steadfastness with sensitivity.

It is Stan who is the pivot of the story. It is the final leg of his return journey from Changi and his making peace with his demons that comprise the body of the play. Ellen's laconic delivery works well but it is his final scene which steals the show. It is beautifully balanced and poignant expresson of friendship and loss.

This last scene is the strongest piece of writing in the play and is worth the wait. The dialogue is less self-conscious and the relationship between Stan and Streaky is finally allowed to be intimate without Sunny's boisterous interruptions. The unevenness of earlier scenes is forgiven.

Thursday 21 January 1999

Masterclass, Jan 5, 1999

By Terence McNally
At The Playhouse, Jan 5 to Jan 30, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

A Melbourne audience being propelled spontaneously and simultaneously to its feet in applause is very, very rare. It demands a breathtaking and masterly performance. Amanda Muggleton, as Maria Callas in Masterclass, fits the bill.

There are moments in Rodney Fisher's stylish production of Terence McNally's elegantly structured play, when Muggleton plumbs Callas' depths of passion and despair and tears splash not only from her eyes.

She stands, isolated, in a narrow spotlight, transported from the opera master class she teaches at the Juilliard School, New York. The tragedy of the woman, the passion of her commitment, the crimson velvet beauty of her voice, transport us, in turn, to La Scala.

This is a peak experience. To be inside the mind of Callas as we hear her dramatic, disturbing voice, takes us to the brink of despair and ecstasy.

In tandem with such beauty and awe, we encounter the bestiality of her lover, Aristotle Onassis, who treated her cruelly. McNally skillfully interweaves the interior and exterior worlds of Callas.

"Poof! I am invisible," quips Muggleton as Callas as the first of her "victims" begins to sing. Double doors swing open dramatically. She sweeps in majestically, music clutched to her chest, black spectacles, head tossed back as if about to sing Lady Macbeth. Callas was never invisible.

Muggleton captures her vanity and insecurity, commitment to teaching, passion for character and her craving to be, once more, the diva. When her voice began to fail in 1959, after a stellar, if controversial, career as diva at La Scala, her confidence was shattered.

In masterclasses, she could risk occasional vocal glimpses of the old Callas before a doting audience, often as large as a thousand.

Muggleton is supported by a fine cast. An unassuming musical accompanist, (Andrew Ross) three singers, (Natasha Hunter, Toni Powell, Domenico Canizzaro) and a stagehand (Laurence Coy)

Callas ached with the need for love and recognition. She may have talked about technique, about meaning, diction and feeling, but her talent was driven by her intense emotional need, her need to be the best, to overcome the "fat girl" image, the rivalry with her pretty sister and other divas.

 "Ho dato tutto at te," she sings. "I gave everything to you." To Onassis, to music, to composers, students and audience  Muggleton also gives everything. It is a consummate performance of a very difficult role.

K Herbert

What Do They Call Me?, 21 Jan 1999

 by Eva Johnson
at Trades Hall until January 30, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

One of the roles of theatre has always been to educate its audience. Eva Johnson's autobiographical play, What Do They Call Me?, adheres to this philosophy perhaps more than it does to art.

The play is comprised of three monologues performed by Marie Andrews. The quality of the writing is variable but the intention is clear. Johnson presents us with the story of Connie Brumbie, an ageing aboriginal woman who speaks to her cell mate after she has been arrested for assault.

The two characters who follow this tight little characterisation are her two 'stolen' daughters. Regina, a "White Bread" social worker who was adopted by a middle class Adelaide family, is now struggling to come to terms with her recently discovered aboriginality.

The other is Alison,  "a radical feminist amazon warrior lesbian" with a white lover who is ostracised by parts of the female aboriginal community because she "does not look oppressed ".

German playwright, Bertolt Brecht, wrote screeds on the positive impact of didactic theatre but Eva Johnson seems bent on lecturing us more than is necessary. Connie's story manages to maintain a potent dramatic core as well as being informative about the plight of women in her position Her tale is compelling and could be woven throughout the following two monologues to hold the play together.

The device of having each character talk to an unseen listener is less effective for Regina and Alison. There is less dramatic content and much of the emotional content is described to us rather than enacted. The moment when Alison meets her birth mother Connie is the most moving scene in her monologue.

The piece makes a statement but is repetitive and slow moving with limited dramatic appeal. However, its content is important and Marie Andrews, whose day job is as a barrister, is a warm and engaging performer, particularly as Connie.

Her other two characterisations are less successful perhaps because of the preaching quality and awkwardness of the writing. This may also have contributed to the cause of a couple of 'blanks" Andrews suffered during the show.

Theatrically, What Do Thy Call Me? needs some tighter direction and dramaturgy on the script, but it is a strong example of didactic theatre.

Wednesday 20 January 1999

The White Rose by Steven Dawson, 20 Jan 1999

 Out Cast Theatre at David Williamson Theatre until Feb 14
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Has the Sydney Mardi Gras ever have a Nana Mouskouri float? She was once a gay icon in the same way that Patsy (Absolutely Fabulous) is now. Picture dozens of men dressed in lush dark wigs, enormous spectacles, flowing skirts and big bosoms. Nana was the Greek Dolly Parton in the 60's.

She was also known as The White Rose and Steven Dawson's latest play of the same name has a Nana look-alike at the centre of its comic plot. It is a farce, complete with slamming doors, mistaken identities, gender-bending and secret lovers.

The difference is that most of the characters are gay or lesbian. Ben (Robert Parlavecchio) has been avoiding his gay mates for months and is about to marry Angela (Katerina Kotsonis) the Greek-Australian lesbian from his gym who has temporarily abandoned her girlfriend. (Rosemary Johns).

His friend, Hal (Peter Edmonds) is astonished and horrified when Ben, now known as Demetri, tells him they are marrying 'for the presents": namely lots of white goods, a third share in the family car- wrecking business and a $500,000 dowry. Jackpot!

So where does Nana come in? Angela, to prove Demetri is a worthy catch, has convinced her mother and grandmother (Mo'ria Limberis) and two brothers (John Mandoukis) that he is related to Nana.

Hal is dragooned into doing his Nana impersonation for the wedding. Edmonds in drag is hilarious. He minces, and poses and smiles his Nana smile until Nikkos, the thug brother, falls in love with him.

And the twists go on. This is a clever premise for a comedy with plenty of scope for farcical confusion and role swapping. There are some clumsy directorial choices and the dialogue of most of the characters is undifferentiated but the pace is swift and, particularly in the second half, the jokes come thick and fast. The predominantly gay and lesbian audience hooted throughout.

The performances are uneven but Kotsonis plays the feisty Angela with relish and Limberis bubbles and seethes hilariously as granny and mum. Edmonds becomes the feature as his Nana gets drunker, lustier and more out of control and jumps the straight brother.

The play is better structured and more appealing to the general public than previous plays by Dawson and is an appropriate contribution to the Midsumma Festival.


Wednesday 13 January 1999

Some shows that opened January, 1999

Some shows that opened in January, 1999

I didn't see all these:
  • The White Rose, Outcast Theatre, Wed Jan 13
  • Razor Baby, Club Swing, Friday Jan 15
  • Homme Fatale, Theatreworks, Saturday Jan 16
  • What Do They Call Me?  & CLIT, by Eva Johnston, Trades Hall, Jan 2I
  • Samantha Leith,  Jan 27
  • Shirley Billing, Jan 28
  • My Life as  a Dyke, Jan 29

Sunday 3 January 1999

The Misanthrope, MTC, Jan 2, 1999

By Moliere,  MTC
At Fairfax Studio, Jan until February 13, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

"The Function of comedy is to correct the vices of mankind," said Moliere, the 17th century French satirist: a noble sentiment however unlikely.

Simon Phillips' production of The Misanthrope may not correct anybody's vices, but it is intelligent, classy, cunning and uses a witty modernised translation by English playwright, Martin Crimp.

The text is pacey, provocative, hilarious and peppered with contemporary references to post-modernism, feminism, technology and the ridiculously pretentious language of the intellectual arts world.

There are teasing references to the 17th century throughout and the masquerade ball is a feast of baroque brocade. If Crimp takes liberties, it is in order to be true to the original intention of Moliere, a man of the theatre who would, no doubt, approve.

The Misanthrope, written in 1666, was one of Moliere's acerbic looks at the superficiality of Baroque Parisian society. He was in the invidious and confusing position of becoming the darling of the court a few years after a scandal surrounding three of his plays caused him to be accused of obscenity and atheism.

Alceste, a playwright (Martin Jacobs) renowned for his unexpurgated comments on society and other artists, represents Moliere in the play. His is the only name retained from the original play.

He is accompanied by his temperate friend, John (Humphrey Bower), and is enamoured of a narcissistic, juvenile actress (Sophie Heathcote) who surrounds herself with admirers: her agent (John Stanton), a critic (Kim Gyngell), a juvenile male lead (Richard Grieve), a journalist (Pamela Rabe) and her acting teacher. (Catherine Wilkin).

Finally, Alceste's venomous attacks and brutal criticisms, in comparison to the dissembling and back-stabbing of his compatriots, is seen clearly as simple, even naive, honesty

This superb cast addresses the audience, preens, taunts and poses to evocative musical soundcape (Ian McDonald) and on a vivid gold set(Shaun Gurton) which replicates a gaudy suite at the Sheraton.

Jacobs seethes and spits as Alceste, cutting a swathe through his superficial environment. Gyngell's critic perfectly blends the fawning and supercilious, Wilkin is hilariously idiosyncratic as the faded acting mentor and Rabe maintains a still dignity as Ellen.

Phillips, the next Artistic Director of the MTC, is known for his vigorous and innovative treatment of classic both comic and tragic. His Julius Casesar, pared down to ninety minutes, was a gift. The Misanthrope is equally provocative and entertaining.

Kate Herbert