Wednesday 24 March 2004

72 HOur Mime Project, March 24, 2004

The 72 Hour Mime Project  
by Jason Lehane and Danny Diesendorf
 Store Room, 22 March to 11 April, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

You will be pleased to know that the 72 Hour Mime Project runs just one hour. As one character quips, "No-one can stand more than three hours of mime."

There are the seeds of a clever parody in this show. It has two engaging actors (Jason Lehane, Danny Diesendorf) and several charming moments but at present it feels unfinished and rambling.

The highlights are the parodies of mime artists. The pair argues about the details of their mime. Is it a sheet writing paper they mime or a flimsy tissue paper?

What is a genuine and truthful mime response to being shot by a machine gun or a pistol? My favourite mime moment was when the villain Count Fritz Malzorius, (Diesendorf) wields a real sword and Lehane defends himself valiantly with a clanking mime sword.

The story works in two time periods. In 1884, Gilbert Lehane, once a famous Shakespearian actor, is reduced to appearing as a human slug in a sideshow.

It appears he has sold his soul for a kitbag of ancient mime tricks and he now flees Malzorius.

When he falls through the fifth dimensional mime world, The Mime-trix, (Get it? Matrix?) his world collides with his young ancestor, ,Lehane, in 2004.

Lehane and Diesendorf are struggling to create a new piece of theatre and finally decide in desperation upon Gilbert's own recipe for theatre, The 71 Hour Mime Project.

They go where no mime artist ever treads by extending it to a dangerous 72 hours.

Each idea in the piece has merit but needs some editing or reframing to reach its full potential.

The opening and closing scenes are the most compelling.

 At the beginning, Gilbert, in his slug suit, battles the evil Count. It looks as if it will be a Faustian story about selling one's soul to the devil x but we are disappointed.

The scenes about these two unpaid professionals ("We are not amateurs.") devising a show are too long, although the silly drama exercises are funny.

When they reach the final prolonged mime, the joy of intentionally clumsy mime is finally delivered.

LOOK FOR: The fight between real and mime sword.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 18 March 2004

All's Well That Ends, Dir. Suzanne Kirsten, April 18, 2004

All's Well That Ends 
 Directed by Suzanne Kirsten
 March 18, 2004

 Well, Well, Well. All's Well That Ends - well, in total confusion really.

This production of Shakespeare's play, directed by Suzanne Kersten, incorporates eclectic styles, language, periods and music. The collision of styles can be compelling and entertaining in new theatre making. Each component enhancing or informing another. Or, it can just be a nasty muddle.

In this production the intersection of Shakespearian text with popular culture and language is incoherent and lacks cohesion. The play, All's Well That Ends Well, is almost irrelevant. The cast is an energetic and youthful group totally committed to the concept.

The narrative is roughly as follows: The rampant clubber,  Belinda  (Clair Korobacz ) is compelled by the disease-riddled Queen  (Deanne Eccles) to marry the despondent Herman. (Paul Moir) as a reward for Herman's curing the Queen's illness. A narrator, La Feu (Fleur Dean) provides information about characters and style.

The royal court is transformed into a raunchy club environment. The young women compete in "The Body Fest Competition" which is essentially an erotic dance competition in the style of live sex shows.

 Not every experiment in the rehearsal room should be included in the performance. There are long - too long - scenes of solo or group dancing that interrupt the flow of story and add nothing to the concept. Gender roles from the original text are swapped. The women are rough and sexist with their multiple sexual partners.

The links between scenes are clumsy with long gaps as we wait for performers to move over a rather noisy set of platforms to a new position.

Many of the contemporary references and images are cheap parodies. The Queen's Throne is a toilet. A giant, inflatable penis is a sex toy in the dancing.

The performers are awkward in the scenes from Shakespeare, having difficulty connecting truthfully to the Shakespearian language. They are all far more at home with the club land dancing. The entire piece is intended to sexualise Shakespeare but it is not in the slightest sexy. It is, rather, narcissistic, self-indulgent and poorly executed.

Perhaps they should leave the bard alone next time.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 17 March 2004

The Slippery Slope by Merrilee Moss, 17 March, 2004

 The Slippery Slope by Merrilee Moss 
Women on a Shoestring
 La Mama, 17 March to 28 March, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on 17 March, 2004

Ageing is never an easy ride but, for the hippy children of the 60s, it is a slippery slope.

 Playwright, Merrilee Moss, portrays three friends over sixty who spent the 1960s travelling the hippy trail together through Europe and Asia.

It is Caroline's (Chrissie Shaw) 60th birthday party at her beachside haven.

Despite years of separation, Robert (Peter Green) and Susan (Camilla Blunden) are the only guests invited - apart from Susan's ex-lover, Drago, who never arrives.

Between the reunion scenes are vignettes from their youthful, dope-smoking travels.

Just watching older actors play young hippies is funny.

In many ways, little has changed in young people. We still see the pretentious, the adventurous, the faux spiritual, the promiscuous, the feminist and the macho.

Although there is no action on stage in either of these scenes, each is amusing. Many will recall the reckless abandon of their hippy youth and others will recognise the fear of ageing.

There are two other modes in the play. The trio plays an elderly singing chorus of rickety lawn bowlers who quote old songs and sing raunchy numbers.

Ageing is also investigated through the eyes of the actors themselves who drop out of character intermittently.

They discuss stage fright, the trickle of acting work, creaky joints and forgetting lines.

The four components sit a little awkwardly together although each is entertaining in its own way.

The performances are often engaging although a little uneven.

Green is amusing as an ex-rogue trying to hang on to his youth. Shaw as the young, ethereal Caroline, is entertaining. Blunden seems more comfortable in the chorus scenes.

Age has changed and wearied all three characters. What we miss is the detail of their lives and the complexities of their reactions to each other, the past, the changes in their relationships.

Robert's Vietnam experience is tossed into the mix quite late and never integrated. Susan's broken marriage is never dealt with and Caroline's middle years are barely mentioned.

Most of the action is off-stage or talked about in the past tense. Even in a memory play there needs to be forward moving action.

This play is part of Senior Citizens' Week and could delight or shock its audience.

LOOK FOR: The trio singing the raunchy number, Root, root, rooty-root.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 11 March 2004

The Soul Miner by Ray Swann, March 11, 2004

The Soul Miner by Ray Swann 
by Identity Theatre
Where and When: Trades Hall, March 8 to 20, 2004; Frankston Arts Centre, 21-24 April, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 11, 2004

The Soul Miner, written and performed by Ray Swann, is a vibrant, passionate and compelling solo show about a Gallipoli survivor.

Swann, directed by Richard Sallis and Andreas Litras, peoples the stage with vivid characters that flow effortlessly from one to another.

Jim, the central character, Swann first brings him to life in a mining accident after the war. He is trapped in a shaft trying to rescue Alfie,  an injured lad.

Jim tries to distract himself and the lad by recounting comical tales of his army mates.

As he struggles with his panic and incarceration, memories of horrific experiences at Gallipoli flood his mind.

Swann transforms before our eyes, shifting physically and vocally to inhabit another of his creations.

Multiple locations are conjured despite his being alone on an empty stage strewn with sand and with only a torch, a tiny lantern and a foldaway chair.

Swann is an accomplished performer with an engaging presence. He draws these men with great sympathy and intelligence.

Our eyes and hearts travel with him as he transports us to 1914.

We meet Frank, Jim's mischievous, garrulous mate who keeps morale up by telling jokes at the expense of the Kiwis and breaking into the quartermaster's store for cooking plonk.

Jim describes another army pal, young Davo, as a galah. Dave is uncoordinated, slow and good-hearted.

The target of Frank's ridicule is Reverend Beefy Moncrief who attempts to boost the boys' mood with inappropriate quotes from Francis Bacon and Lewis Carroll.

Sallis and Litras keep the action fluid by avoiding scene changes and using only the occasional blackout for dramatic impact. John Panetta's lighting is evocative.

There are particularly powerful images of Swann portraying an entire battalion being mown down on the beaches at Gallipoli.

He ploughs forward with his invisible rifle and bayonet, falls, rises again as another soldier until they all lie fallen.

This is a complex psychological investigation of the distraught mind of a soldier who once again faces his mortality in amine shaft.

LOOK FOR: Jim cradling the injured Frank in his arms on the beach.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 10 March 2004

Crossing the Bridge by Gaylene Carbis, March 10, 2004

Crossing the Bridge by Gaylene Carbis
La Mama, March 10 to 28, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Crossing the Bridge rests on a common issue facing the children of men who survived the Second World War.

Their fathers were emotionally distant and traumatised by their wartime experiences.

Writer, Gaylene Carbis, is partially successful in representing the impact on both generations.

Don, (Sam Sejavka) travels by train with his partner, Jan, (Samantha Bond) to his elderly parents' home in the middle of nowhere.

The summer heat is oppressive, as is the atmosphere in this dysfunctional family home.

Don has little contact with his very conservative parents,

Alan (Ross Thomson) and Blanche. (Brenda Palmer) They ignore his success as a poet, novelist and psychologist.

Their focus is on his parade of girlfriends, his debt and his wasteful use of their electric fan.

Thompson's portrayal of Alan is both moving and comical.

He captures the frailty of this old digger as well as his stubbornness and dogged refusal to admit fault or brook any change to his daily routine.

Director, Lynne Ellis, stages the play in an unusual configuration with actors sitting and walking amongst the audience. We seem to be right inside this grim little home.

Sejavka seems more comfortable in the later scenes in which he allows us to see Don's more vulnerable side.

Carbis writes some moving and funny passages but has not yet found the balance between the naturalistic dialogue and poetic monologues.

The characters and relationships could benefit from some further development and deepening in the writing.

At present, they all seem to be on one note: Don is negative, Jane is bemused, Blanche is evasive and Alan is recalcitrant

There is great potential in the issue of child abuse triggered by a father's wartime trauma. The problems with the script are that there are no surprises.

When the argument comes to a head the impact is limited because all the family problems have been revealed repeatedly early in the play.

Family crisis and argument always has an illogical flow. However, there needs to be some logic to the characters and their revelations.

The script needs a clearer dramatic arc to the narrative and fuller relationships between characters to realise its full potential.

LOOK FOR: Ross Thompson's stroppy old man.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday 4 March 2004

Kiss them All Soundly by Jason Cavanagh, March 4, 2004

 Kiss Them All Soundly by Jason Cavanagh
Chambers Theatre Company 
Gasworks, from March 4, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Three nursery rhymes were the stimulus for Kiss Them All Soundly, the first play by Jason Cavanagh.

The play does not enact the rhymes but uses them as a jumping off point for three contemporary tragedies.

The play is successful in part. The most effective scenes are those in which the characters confront, reveal or admit their traumatic past experiences. These scenes have some emotional weight and more substantial narrative and characters.

In Georgie Porgie, George,  (Bill Johnston) an elderly man resting at a bus stop, meets Alice,  (Grace Anderson) a twelve year girl and they become friends.

We have some doubts about her safety, as does she at first. However, eventually she and we realise George is harmless and genuinely friendly.

In the story based on Mary Had a Little Lamb, James (Jason Cavanagh) is concerned about his wife, Mary, (Tamara Searle) who never leaves the house while he is at work. It is clear to us that she lives in a fantasy world in which her baby is still alive.

Simon  (Cavanagh) is caught in a strange world. He remembers nothing of his time immediately before arriving in what we know is a hospital.

He is angry, frustrated, impatient and cannot understand why he cannot leave and, later, why his wife and child do not visit.

The that intersect of these three stories at the end is interesting whereas the opening scenes are abstract, short and sometimes confusing or irritatingly obtuse.

Simon's initial daily conversation with Martin,  (Johnston) his doctor, is repetitive, as is the repeated action between Mary and James.

There are two false endings and three overwritten monologues. Cavanagh attempts to represent grief and trauma that causes mental breakdown. His representation of both is very superficial and the easy solutions to Mary and Simon's psychosis are unlilkely.

The actors often seem uncomfortable in the roles. Director, Jasper Bagg, moves actors between stories and roles. The delineation between the characterisations and the locations is often unclear on the stage.

This is a good effort for a first play but it needs some reworking.

LOOK FOR: The final silent image of the trio on a bus stop bench.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 3 March 2004

Act One adapted from Moss Hart, March 3, 2004

Act One 
adapted from Moss Hart by Don Mackay  
La Mama at the Courthouse  March 3 to 13, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

An interesting life can be a rich basis for drama.

Writer/director, Don Mackay, based Act One, on American playwright and director, Moss Hart's autobiography of the same name. Simon Russell plays Moss Hart while Simon Mallory appears as almost everybody else.

The play spans 1916 (OK) to 1930 and is set in various American cities and, finally, Broadway. We witness Hart's rise from poverty in the Bronx  to theatre producer's office boy and fledgling playwright. After years writing unsuccessful dramas, in 1930 Hart becomes the darling of Broadway with his first comedy, Once In A Lifetime.

Mackay stops at this point rather than continue with Hart's rollicking success with The Man Who Came To Dinner, and You Can't Take It With You.

The trap with adapting a popular autobiography for stage is the temptation to include too much text and too long a time period.

The agonising development of the final script of Once In A Lifetime is the most compelling part of the play. The earlier period could be edited to give the same information more effectively.

Mackay uses Hart's own colourful narration and descriptions of characters such as George S, Kaufman,  heiress, Mrs. Harris and Moss' Aunt Kate.

Russell makes a meal of his role and skilfully compels us to listen to tracts of description of places and people.

He plays Hart as a bright, magnetic, intense, ambitious young man and drives the play forward with wide-eyed, direct address to audience between many short scenes. He has an uncanny way of making the audience feel he is looking each in the eye. 

 Meanwhile, Mallory sprints about, donning hats, ties, spectacles and feather boas to embody a parade of characters with great comic timing and an engaging presence.

The audience is fascinated not only by the characters but by Mallory's capacity to alter his persona rapidly and frequently. He captures the intense, intelligent and generous George S. Kaufman perfectly. His Mrs. Harris is charming and funny and Harris, the producer, provides a welcome change of rhythm.

Act One is a faithful and entertaining rendering of a fascinating life in the theatre.

LOOK FOR: Russell's hilarious old ham actor.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 2 March 2004

The Zoo Story by Edward Albee, March 2.2004

The Zoo Story by Edward Albee
 Theatreworks, 14a Acland St. St. Kilda,  March 2 to  13, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Zoo Story is one of celebrated American playwright, Edward Albee's, finest short works.

It is an exploration of maleness, social status and the collision of two unlikely and disparate lives in a park. This production eliminates comfortably the Americanisms of the original and localises the language.

Albee's writing is pithy disturbing and often hilarious. Intelligent, wry cynical and darkly humorous, particularly for the central character, Jerry (Tom Healey).

 Greg Ulfan directs the play with a firm and dramatic hand, maintaining intense dramatic tension through out and focussing on the relationship between the characters.

Healey and Damien Donovan  (Peter)  perform with finesse on a stage that is bare but for a single wooden park bench.

This is an intensely actorly performance infused with passion and poignancy. Healey plays Jerry a peculiar, unstable, homeless transient who has an unexpected power wisdom and awareness.

Jerry accosts Peter who sits reading on a bench in the park on a quiet Sunday. What transpires is like the peeling of an onion or opening a Russian Doll. As Jerry reveals his tormented inner world step by painful step, Peter is drawn further into his orbit.

The stage is Healey's. We are riveted by his character from the moment he appears perched like a creature of prey, peering at Peter and poised for attack. Healey's broad dynamic range and portrayal of Jerry's apparent weirdness and intermittent normality are exceptional. His timing is impeccably. And he gives Jerry great sympathy and a ragged dignity.

An emotional roller coaster reveals the loss of Jerry's parents, his aloneness, his sordid, soulless boarding house and his cryptic visit to the zoo that day.

Donovan is a fine support for Healey and portrays Peter, the stitched up, middle class I.T. executive with a rigid reserve.

His is an ordinary, suburban life with a wife, two girls, two cats and two budgies. His attentiveness to Jerry becomes our attentiveness. We are aware that an accident of fate placed Jerry, not Peter, in the hollow, strange, half-lit world Jerry inhabits. We care about both of these mismatched characters.

Despite our attitude toward Jerry seesawing between fear and sympathy and the escalating conflict between them, we want a happy ending. The Zoo Story is a fine piece of theatre.

LOOK FOR: The finale of Jerry's black dog and burger story.

By Kate Herbert