Thursday 30 October 2003

Flame by Joanna Murray-Smith / Still by Jane Bodie, Oct 30, 2003

 Flame by Joanna Murray-Smith / Still by Jane Bodie
 by Look Look  Theatre  and The Malthouse  
 Tower Room,  Malthouse,  Oct 30 to Nov 15, 2003 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 30
Published in Herald Sun, Melbourne, Nov 2003

Joanna Murray-Smith's short play, Flame, directed by Joy Mitchell,  peers through the window at a widow's grief.

Louisa  (Michele Williams) summons her dead husband, Max  (Syd Brisbane) in moments of reminiscence, anguish, love, and guilt.

Flame is composed of fragmented dialogue and ruptured communication. The pair interrupt or complete each other's thoughts.

Initially, Louisa is the perfect widow, shattered then numbed by grief. She resorts to poetry to express her loss and decoupage  to fill empty hours.

She no longer receives invitations from those who cannot face her pain. Her grief is a dinner anecdote for others.

Max, although he has passed on, seems not cheerful but composed and without the pain of loss.

"Life lives death so much more keenly than death itself," says Louisa.

Flame is a series of revelations. It peels away skins to reveal the kernel of truth. We discover her grief masks many things including some relief and a past infidelity.

Williams, in widow's weeds, plays Louisa with a touch of the unfeelingness her husband describes. She seems bitter about his death, but her bitterness is about the more complex landscape of their relationship.

Brisbane portrays Max with a bright simplicity that makes Louisa's revelation more of a betrayal.

Jane Bodie's Still, directed by Bernadette Ryan, is a series of eight monologues about modern relationships. They deal with different aspects of love, sex, abandonment, attraction and seduction.

Four actors (Trent Baker, Michele Williams, Danielle Carter, Robert Jordan) play two characters each.

Baker is a young man desperate to make love to his latest conquest when his body betrays him. Then he is a voyeur who, nightly, observes through is window, his young female neighbour.

Carter plays both a woman admitting a drunken fling to her partner and a dizzy gal who prepares every detail of her date from conversation to contraception.

Jordan plays both a serial seducer with a huge capacity for self-deception and a gay man bravely facing his ex-partner at a groovy party.

Williams appears as a comic-tragic woman hiding from her ex and his new lover behind the citrus shelf in Coles, then as a woman who feels suffocated by the perfect partner.

These two plays are interesting companions dealing with contemporary love and loss.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 29 October 2003

The Rat Pack - Direct From Vegas, Oct 29, 2003

The Rat Pack - Direct From Vegas
 by Direct From Vegas Productions Inc.  

 Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne, Oct 29 to Nov 9, 2003

Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Published in Herald Sun, Melbourne, Oct 2003

The Rat Pack is back and they are in fine form. Frank Sinatra,  Dean Martin  and Sammy Davis Jr.  make a posthumous comeback in Direct From Vegas.

The performers (Gary Corsello, Steve Apple, Lonnie Parlor) playing the trio are fair look-alikes for the originals but it is their voices that make the show extraordinary.

Close your eyes during Corsello's rendition of Lady Is A Tramp  or New York, New York,  and you would think Ol' Blue Eyes was in the room.

This tribute show is based on the six years of shows performed by the original Rat Pack in The Copa Room  at The Sands Hotel and Casino  in Las Vegas  from 1960.

They were friends by day and drinking and carousing mates by night. When they shot Ocean's Eleven  in the Copa Room in 1960, they started playing ad libbed shows at night. The combination was dynamite for an audience.

The original group also included comedian, Joey Bishop  and actor, Peter Lawford.  However, it is the voices and antics of Sinatra, Martin and Davis that make this show.

Corsello, Apple and Parlour studied the Rat Pack and much of the dialogue and interaction is lifted from their original shows. At times the patter feels a little stilted. It is almost impossible to reproduce improvised banter with the ease of its first moment.

Current artists would never get away with the jokes and jibes of these guys in the 60's. They are riddled with sexism, racism, alcoholism, anti-Semitism and sizeism.  Davis is constantly teased for being short, black and Jewish.

The political correct police would lock it down in thirty seconds. But their camaraderie and genuine love of each other made it all a positive experience. The Rat Pack adored and admired each other and it shows even in the reproduction.

Corsello does justice to tunes such as Come Fly With Me, My Way and I've Got You Under My Skin.

Apple recreates the easy wicked, faux drunkenness of Martin and croons with finesse his famous toons including That's Amore and Embraceable You.

He captures Dino's charm, charisma and style, delivering his gags and naughty lyrics with absolute accuracy and delight.

Parlour, as Davis, is a great fol for the Sinatra and Dino pair. Although he does not have the vaudeville dance skills of the original, his jazzy versions of Old Black Magic,  Mr. Bojangles and The Candy Man conjure up the dancing Davis.

There is also a classy twelve piece band on stage under the musical direction of pianist, John Peace.

This is a nostalgia show that invokes the spirits of the Rat Pack for our delectation.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 28 October 2003

Lorilei, Tom Wright & Nicholas Harrington, Oct 28, 2003

Lorilei  by Tom Wright & Nicholas Harrington  
 La Mama, Carlton, Oct 29 to Nov 9, 2003 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

In Australia we no longer have the death penalty for murderers but, in the USA, the debate about capital punishment continues.

This short monodrama, Lorilei,  provides a glimpse into the horrific experience of Lorilei Guillory,  the mother of a murdered child whose killer, Ricky Langley,  is on Death Row.

The play was conceived by Tom Wright and Nicholas Harrington who also collaborated on This Is A True Story,  another story focussing on a Death Row inmate.

Myriad elements make this piece unique and important. Not the least of these is the consummate performance by Anna Galvin  as Lorilei.

Galvin delivers a compelling monologue based on a BBC interview with Lorilei. She sits at a plain table, addressing us, her audience, teling of the loss and grief.

Galvin is luminous in her anguish as she unveils the noble, fragile heart of Lorilei. She touches us with Lorilei's unadorned description of her journey from the initial shock of Jeremy's  disappearance, through the discovery of his body and the subsequent walking coma she experienced.

In almost a Brechtian  style, Galvin reaches us emotionally but compels us to think, educating us about the human rights issues while telling her personal story.

Lorilei reveals her astonishing desire to save her child's killer from the death penalty. She does not forgive him, nor does she doubt his guilt. She simply does not believe we have the right to kill him.

Some forty minutes into the monologue, Lorilei describes visiting Ricky Langley on Death Row. At this moment he appears.

Tom Wright plays Ricky as an innocuous little man, manacled hand and foot, bespectacled and slack-mouthed.

He utters not a syllable throughout the remainder of the play as Lorilei describes her visit to him and his journey to his second trial and reprieve. It is an inspired and controlled performance of a tragic simpleton.

What appals us finally is how Lorilei is treated after she announces publicly that she wants Ricky's sentence commuted. She is castigated, manipulated and abused at the hands of the public who supported her, the attorneys on both sides and even by her family.

The simplicity of this production and its pure theatricality make it a rivetting piece of theatre.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 23 October 2003

Push Up, Red Stitch, Oct 23, 2003

 Push Up by Roland Schimmelpfennig
Red Stitch Actors Theatre  
 Rear 2 Chapel St., St. Kilda, Oct (?) to Nov 9, 2003

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The corporate world is a dangerous, dog eat dog environment.

Roland Schimmelpfennig's  play, Push Up, peers in through the double-glazed windows of a corporation to view the ruthless ambition and lack of humanity that rules that high rise world. Schimmelpfennig is a German writer whose plays have successful seasons in the UK.

Director, Kaarin Fairfax,  keeps the staging simple - just a large desk and chairs. This sparseness allows the focus to remain on the characters and their competitive sparring.

The piece falls into three scenes of about thirty minutes. In each, two characters from the company vie for control and in each, one loses his or her job. It is cut- throat.

Schimmelpfennig highlights how similar these people are by giving them fragments of common dialogue. Their thoughts and dreams, fears and passions are often identical. The outcomes are not.

The first scene see Sabine,  (Ella Caldwell) a young, smart, upwardly mobile executive, confronting the Managing Director, Angelika  (Kate Cole) and demanding a major management position.

She loses that battle of wits and status.

Part two is a sexually charged scene in which another equally ambitions woman, Patrizia (Kat Stewart) presents her new company promotional ad to the boss's right hand man, Robert  (Vincent Miller)

This time, he loses.

The final scene is perhaps the most poignant. A sixty-something executive, Hans, (Peter Hosking)  believes he will win the plum job of running the Delhi office.  his competitor is his younger subordinate, Heinrich.  (David Whiteley)

You guessed it. The older man loses.

It is gladiatorial battles fought in the glittering offices of a corporate world that does not value honesty, temperance, humility or love.

The performances are all very strong with particularly compelling work from Kat Stewart as the anxious and sexy Patrizia and Hosking as the over-confident older executive, Hans.

Red Stitch continue to produce interesting new plays with a constantly developing cast of local actors. Push Up is worth seeing.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 19 October 2003

Beasty Girl - The Secret Life of Errol Flynn, Oct 19, 2003

Beasty Girl  - The Secret Life of Errol Flynn
by Scott Rankin  
St. Martin's Youth Arts Centre, Oct 19 to 26, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Errol Flynn made fifty-three movies in twenty-six years and was not only Australia's most famous movie star but the most recognisable face of his generation.

Beasty Girl is not a study of Flynn's life. It is a lateral look at how his irresponsible behaviour affected the lives of an unacknowledged illegitimate daughter and her mother.

Actor, Leah Purcell, and writer-director, Scott Rankin, last collaborated on Purcell's very successful solo show, Box the Pony. Purcell is a warm and engaging presence and Rankin makes these qualities part of the style of the show. She speaks directly to the audience as herself, as Flynn's Jamaican daughter Carly,  and as Carly's mother.

She also addresses us as a humanised version of the extinct Tasmanian Tiger,  or Thylacine. Flynn, a Tasmanian, is purported to have kept one as a pet. The focus of this metaphor is the parallel between the faded movie idol, the ignored daughter and the invisible, extinct animal.

Flynn himself is part of an extinct generation of pre-war screen heroes. As his lifestyle became more dissolute and his reputation less savoury, his fame faded and he drank himself to death at forty-nine.

Purcell shifts effortlessly between characters, her body and voice doing all the work for us. Although her performance is based in purely physical transformation, Rankin fills the piece with visual and aural representations of Flynn.

Video design (Kirsten Bradley) includes footage of Flynn's films and abstract forests and images of the Tiger are accompanied by an evocative sound design. Composed by Robert Iolini  and operated by Damian Mason.

Dan Witton  assists Purcell on stage with some simple shadow puppetry and other imagery.

The writing is intelligent, the performance compelling and the visual and sound are interesting. What seems to be missing is the emotional level of the story. The work keeps us at arm's length leaving us with a sense that we have missed something in the story of both Carly and her father the movie hero.

By Kate Herbert

Sunday 12 October 2003

Road to Heaven, Young@Heart & No Theater, Oct 13, 2003

Road to Heaven  
 by Young@Heart and No Theater
Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne,  until October 13, 2003 only  

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

You will be kicking yourself for not seeing Young@Heart in Road to Heaven. All I can say is you missed something warm, funny, moving, theatrical and musically challenging.

The company, led by dynamic director, Bob Cilman,  comprises over twenty singers who are all of pensionable age - that is if America pays pensions these days. The group hails from Northampton,  Massachusetts  but has performed to great acclaim in festivals all over Europe.

These are not many professional performers or singers in the group but there are some marvellous voices and an enormous amount of energy and delight in their work.

The show, directed by Roy Faudree of No Theater,  places the chorus in a strange hospital environment like the infamous Bedlam Mental Institute. They all wear white with frills, mob caps or hospital gowns. A row of white cots lines the upstage wall.

 By playing up to prejudices about age and senility, forgetfulness and weakness, it pokes fun at us and at aging. Several of the chorus are dressed as doctors and nurses who shepherd cast members around between musical numbers. It is all tongue in cheek.

The six piece live band  is a gift. The music includes the old and new, chorus and solos, poignant and hilarious songs.

Three Elvis impersonators do Hound Dog and I'm All Shook Up, A drag queen plays Carole Channing  singing Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend

The song that sounds like their anthem is Forever Young. They sing We'll Meet Again  from the 40's as well as 70's and 80's songs. They feature Devo's Whip It  Talking Heads  The Beatles' song,  She's Leaving Home  Stairway to Heaven  and disco hit, Staying Alive.

Lyrics take on new meaning when sung by ageing singers. The line, "Somebody help me" in Staying Alive and the feminist anthem I Will Survive  become funny and a little too close to home when out of the mouths of frail elderly.

Boundaries are torn down with this kind of show. Everybody, including the 16 year olds in the back row loved it.

I am now in the throes of planning to sing through my twilight years. It looks like more fun than anything younger people are doing.

By Kate Herbert