Wednesday 14 June 2006

Pitch by Peter Houghton, La Mama, June 16, 2006

Pitch by Peter Houghton
Where and When: La Mama, June 14 to June 25, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 16, 2006

Peter Houghton is funny. He is a funny performer and his script, Pitch, is really funny.

Houghton is alone on the tiny La Mama space but he peoples the stage with characters. Not only does he inhabit an enormous number of personages, he plays them as specific English, American and Australian movie actors.

In a tight show directed by Anne Browning, Houghton plays Walter Weinermann, a screenwriter who is rehearsing the pitch for his movie script. Based on Houghton’s own nightmarish experience of pitching a script to an il-matched trio of film financiers, it is a roller-coaster ride through India circa 1935, and Iraq, Afghanistan, Paris and Hong Kong in the present.

Houghton has a perfect, silent movie-style clown face. He evokes locations with cunning vocal interpretations of Indian, Arabic and Chinese musical themes. Through the vehicle of his vivid language, we enter a smoky Parisian bar, the deserts of the Middle East, the garish streets of Hong Kong and a crashing UN plane.

As the fat, cigar-puffing Hollywood producer, he states that there are only four story themes for a movie: mystery, the loser, love and revenge. No one wants the truth.

So the hero’s journey begins. Jones, played by Clint Eastwood – or, rather, Houghton playing Jones as Clint Eastwood – is a CIA or MI6 agent. Jones might be played by Russell Crowe. Who knows?

 He is sent by Miles (Anthony Hopkins) to assassinate Clive (Michael Douglas) with the help of Violetta (Catherine Zeta-Jones). But it all goes horribly wrong when Jones discovers Miles is using him, and not for government work.

Pitch is a romp. Walter, as he prepares his pitch, continually reverts to his own love story with his own Catherine and his revenge story about Clive, the born-again Christian for whom Catherine dumped Walter.

Houghton captures the desperation, elation and panic that accompanies the final stages of any artistic endeavour, particularly when it involves asking for money.

He shows us the movie with meaningful close-ups, jump-cuts, wide pans of the desert, musical interludes and quirky cameos. His impersonations of Eastwood, Crowe and Rupert Everett, Sean Connery and Elijah Wood (Frodo) are clever and his rendition of Robert de Niro is hilarious.

The bottom line, as the media release says, is that Pitch is a riot, particularly if you know blockbuster movies well.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 13 June 2006

Fiddler on the Roof, June 13, 2006

Fiddler on the Roof
Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Book by Joseph Stein

Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne
June 13 until July 9, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 13, 2006

Chaim Topol is the uncontested star of Fiddler on the Roof. 

Nearly 40 years since the then unknown Israeli actor burst onto the London stage as Tevye, the lovable Russian-Jewish milkman, Topol’s professionalism and relish for the role are undiminished.

Topol is that rare creature: an actor with palpable charisma. His eyes glitter, his gaze touches all, his timing and delivery are impeccable and he delicately balances pathos with humour.

Fiddler is also a rare thing. It won nine Tony Awards and was one of the 1960s musicals that dealt with serious issues. Joseph Stein based his superbly constructed narrative on stories by the Yiddish writer, Sholom Aleichem.

Although its depicts oppression and ethnic cleansing of Jews in Tsarist Russia, the story of Tevye, his family and the peasants of Anatevka is one of love, pride, dignity and their Jewish tradition.

The men wear prayer shawls and hats, the Matchmaker (Maggie Kirkpatrick) provides suitors, the father provides a dowry, daughters do not marry for love or without father’s permission and they certainly do not marry outside the Jewish faith.

In the changing world of revolution, poor Tevye’s precious traditions are as precarious as a fiddler playing on a roof. Tevye suffers the humiliation of three daughters marrying inappropriately. His village bears the degradation of a pogrom and its people are spread to all corners of the world in the Jewish Diaspora.

Tevye seeks solace, counsel and conversation from his God as he confronts his despair, decisions and familial conflict.

The marvellous music (Jerry Bock) and lyrics (Sheldon Harnick) are etched into our unconscious. Tradition is a rousing chorus from Topol and the entire cast. Tevye’s, If I Were a Rich Man, is a cheeringly hopeful tune and Sunrise Sunset is a poignant ballad.

Topol is the jewel in this revival of Fiddler but, with a few exceptions, there is little sparkle in the supporting cast. The chorus scenes, (Wedding Dance, Tradition, Anatevka) are rousing but some actors are disappointingly disconnected from the accent, character or feeling of the Russian Jews they portray.

Judith Roberts as Tevye’s wife, Golde, is energetic but needs that rampant bossiness Tevye fears. Maggie Kirkpatrick as Yente lacks authenticity as Yente, the matchmaker. Barry Crocker captures the comic in Lazar, the butcher and Bart John is powerful as the Russian Constable.

Laura Fitzpatrick, as Tevye’s daughter, Hodel, and David Harris as Perchik, her rebellious student fiancĂ© give the most authentic and credible performances.

This is a worthy production and the songs just keep on delighting.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday 7 June 2006

Teja Verdes, Red Stitch, June 7, 2006

Teja Verdes by Fermin Cabal
Red Stitch Actors Theatre

Red Stitch, Rear 2 Chapel St, St. Kilda, June 7 until July 1, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 7, 2006

Listening to the horrific details of the systematic torture of “The Disappeared” in Teja Verdes, is simultaneously numbing and painful.

The play, by Spanish playwright, Fermin Cabal, reveals in an unsentimental style, the atrocities perpetrated in Chile after the coup in 1973 by General Pinochet.

The gasping cruelty of the torturers is described almost dispassionately in most of the seven monologues. Their lack of sentimentality makes them sometimes unbearable, sometimes more accessible.

Grieving women were the face of “The Disappeared” and, in the play, it is seven women who compellingly reveal their truth about the past.

A young woman, Colorina, (Verity Charlton) disappears because of her  relationship to a Marxist boyfriend. Colorina herself speaks coolly to us, detailing her arrest, abduction and subsequent abuse.

Following her is her Friend, (Olivia Connolly) who shares her cell and similar torture.

In contrast to the victims, is the Doctor, (Kate Cole) a woman who brazenly reframes the tortures when she lies to the Committee for Reconciliation in the 90s.

The most chilling voice is the almost childlike gravedigger (Evelyn Krape) who seems bemused by the increasing number of bodies “found” on the streets.

The Informer (Olivia Connolly) confesses her betrayal of Colorina and others. She elicits our sympathy when we hear how her son was brutalised.

The most hateful character is Pinochet’s defence lawyer, (Laura Lattuada) who mocks, taunts and patronises the court, justifying Pinochet’s brutal actions as par of being a leader.

In our safe, warm homes, such inhumanity seems impossibly brutal and incomprehensible. However, the cruelty and grief are real.

Krape almost steals the show with a beautifully inflected portrayal of the gravedigger that balances naivete, humour and knowingness.

Lattuada, as the Lawyer is frighteningly cool and confronting and Cole’s adamant lying as the Doctor is totally credible.

Connolly moves us with the Informer’s confession and Charlton underplays Colorina appropriately with great control.

Director, Jonathan Messer, focuses on the voices of the women and allows Cabal’s monologues to create the details of the torture. Cabal’s language is poetic, his construction deceptively simple and the outcome emotional and educational.

By Kate Herbert

Tuesday 6 June 2006

Treading Water by Trudy McLauchlan, June 6, 2006

Treading Water by Trudy McLauchlan
by Lunchtime Theatre
Horti Hall,  June 6 to 23, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 6, 2006

Lunchtime Theatre is a small company that performs at lunchtimes, Monday to Friday, in or close to the CBD. 

This means that workers can see the shows in lunch hours and those who prefer not to venture out at night can see a show. They even provide soup and bread.

Treading Water, written by Trudy McLauchlan, is a play they have performed in the past. It is a domestic duo, focussing on the peculiarities in a relationship between a young couple.

The play begins with the pair cleaning their living room. She (Amanda Armstrong) dances and tries to avoid work and engage him (Tim Stitz) in play. He maintains his focus on the cleaning, dodging her playfulness.

As he perseveres, moving from cleaning to laundry, the woman wanders off in her own mind, playing at being a pop singer, using a packet of Tim Tams as a microphone and singing a bizarre little tune called The man on the Horse.

She interrupts his laundry folding, trying to engage him with Knock Knock jokes, word games and, finally, resorts to elaborate, romantic stories about the gorgeous men she sees or meets.

Slowly, we realise that these men are all fantasies she creates to make her life interesting. He is jealous of the fantasy men. Being merely human is no competition for a dream man.

What becomes evident is that their inability to leave their apartment is a metaphor for their entrapment in both the relationship and their individual patterns of behaviour.

The metaphor seems forced and the style of the play is inconsistent. This may be the reason the two actors at times look and sound uncomfortable with the dialogue.

Stitz plays the warm and ordinary boyfriend well enough but there is little character development in the script for him. Armstrong seems to enjoy the bubbly character she plays but looks a little awkward with the shifts in style and focus of the script.

Director, Catherine Hill, chooses to set the play in a naturalistic setting but this constrains the play in the world of the real when it could possibly benefit from a more abstracted style of playing and design.

If you have a spare half hour and want a nice cup of soup and a show, this is a cheerful show to see.

By Kate Herbert