Monday, 21 February 2000

Antony and Cleopatra, Feb 21, 2000

By William Shakespeare 
at Gasworks until March 12, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Love and war: these are two of the great passions of the human race.

In Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, the two collide when the obsessional love of Antony and Cleo coincides with the battle between rulers of the Ancient Roman world.

This is one of Shakespeare's last tragedies and a long, complex and difficult play to stage. Director, James McCaughey, presents it unedited in the broad space of Gasworks Theatre with audience seated on two sides in promenade formation.

The production emphasises differences between the steamy, sensual, female environment of Cleopatra's Egypt and the dry, intellectual, male world of Rome. Antony (Ian Campbell) is caught between the two. His overwhelming desire for Cleo (Mary Sitarenos) when he is in Egypt, is obscured by his craving for power on his return to Rome.

Battles are psychological as much as physical. Octavius Caesar, (Grant Moulday) as yet only one of three rulers of Rome, portrays a cool control and ability to negotiate peace while Antony flounders and succumbs to passion.

McCaughey stylises the action, particularly battles, utilising fabric and rope to create location, atmosphere and costume. The evocative soundscape by Graeme Leak (creates music from industrial sound.

Alice Nash's visually simple and effective design, drapes bolts of deep red fabric from the ceiling at Egypt's end of the corridor. Tough marine ropes hang at the opposing end to represent Rome. Costumes by Ella Sawtell juxtapose jewel-coloured gowns with suggestions of armour. John Bennett's inventive metallic trolley provides a mobile war machine.

This ensemble, playing multiple roles, creates a cohesive and coherent production. Sitarenos as Cleopatra is silky, unpredictable and often funny in her seductiveness. As Antony, Campbell shifts from vulnerable lover to steely general. Unfortunately, at times he is inaudible in this cavernous space.

Moulday as Caesar maintains the haughty voice and demeanour of those born to rule and Stephen Costan as Antony's companion Enobarbus, has warmth in both character and voice.

As Cleopatra's two serving women, Genevieve Morris and Miria Kostiuk create a fine triptych with Cleo while Kurt Geyer and Richard Bligh provide a range of strong characters with other cast members, Steven Smith, Steve Gome and Nield Schneider

This is a vivid and intelligent interpretation of the play although the pace seems to drag after interval.

by Kate Herbert

The Beauty Queen of Leenane, MTC, Feb 21, 2000

by Martin McDonagh; Melbourne Theatre Company
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne until April 1, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is no beauty pageant in Leenane. 

There is little beauty left in the barren landscape of Connemara, Ireland, nor in its deprived and battered people. Martin McDonagh's play, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, tears away the romantic shroud of the Emerald Isle.

The said beauty queen (Pamela Rabe) is a 40 year old virgin with a shadowy past, who lives with her harridan mother (Maggie Kirkpatrick OK) in an isolated cottage in an isolated village in Galway. She might have been called a spinster years ago.

Directed with sensitivity and humour by Garry Hynes from the Druid Theatre of Galway, this is a funny, tragic piece telling a personal story with the backdrop of a decimated land.  This first of McDonagh's award-winning Leenane Trilogy, written when he was 26, has the wry wit of the Irish as well as their violent passion, Catholic superstition, guilt and manipulation.

The tragedy of Ireland is not only its occupation by its colonial neighbours who determined to eliminate the Irish language, culture, pride and to take even their last potatoes. It is also the fact that dire poverty forced Ireland's youth to depart in droves seeking work in England, America and Australia.

Rabe is magnetic as the tragic Maureen Folan, trapped not only in her cottage with her mother but inside her confused and frightened head. Rabe captures the despair and frustration of this erratic, disturbed woman. A mere glimmer of hope destroyed by her mother's selfishness is enough to send her haywire.

Kirkpatrick as Mag Folan, embodies superbly the physical and emotional burden which Maureen endures. She is dependent, lazy and vindictive, resenting and sabotaging any hint of joy for her daughter in case it leaves her without a slave. Their attachment owes more to duty and compulsion than to love.

Mother drives Maureen to distraction. She drives us to the very brink ourselves. When Pato Dooley, played with sympathy and naivete by Greg Stone, returns from England and wants to take Maureen to Boston, all goes horribly wrong.

This play may not be the masterpiece it is purported to be but it is a damn good yarn. It evokes a powerful emotional response and a potent sense of tragedy and anguish.

One textual problem is that significant character traits are omitted or obscured early in the play in order to allow later plot twists to be a surprise. But works as theatre.

by Kate Herbert

Friday, 18 February 2000

The Elephant's Tusk, Feb 18, 2000

 by Rosemary Johns
La Mama at Courthouse until March 4, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The art of story-telling is a subtle and complex one and the creation of a new morality tale is not an easy task. 

 In The Elephant's Tusk, writer Rosemary Johns attempts to create a morality tale about love. The outcome is uneven.

The story is set in India. Julie (Helen Doig) and Sara, (Natalie Carr) two young, single Australian women, are on a journey not only to discover the beauty of India. They are searching for the answers to profound questions about their life choices and their futures.

In the inimitable fashion of Westerners clinging blindly to Eastern philosophy and culture, they seek the solutions to their problems from visions, temples, spinning crystals and, finally, from a fortuneteller or diviner.

The Diviner creates visions of the women's lives at home in the future as well as telling a story of a young Muslim man (Sunil Daniel) who falls in love with an Australian girl. There is some lesson to be learned from this tale. Perhaps that true love always prevails in spite of family differences and other insurmountable obstacles.

Of course, the stories juxtaposed against this are those of Sara's ill-fated love for two married men. She seeks a father figure, a protector, a romantic older man. She learns that she does not really love Stan, her lecturer, (Mark Oddie). How she comes to this moment of revelation is unclear. There has been no real journey for her or for her friend.

Julie is pushy, frustrated and despairing about being overweight and never being in love. Sara is naive, unrealistic and attracted to married men. The two characters never really come to life because the characterisations are shallow and sketchy.

 The thin text is unaided by clumsy direction (Jools Gardiner) and some unconvincing performances .The strongest performance is from Alex Pinder as Ganesha's Mouse. He narrates the very confused story with panache and plays very capably a series of other roles, including the Diviner.

The Courthouse is a cavernous space that needs closing down with light or set. The design by Peter Mumford (is an interesting monument to Ganesha but it does not serve the play. The actors rattle around uncomfortably in the space.

This script lacks layers of meaning and complexity of character to make it work as theatre.

by Kate Herbert

Thursday, 17 February 2000

Skin Flick, Feb 17 2000

By Vanessa Rowell, Kate Ellis
at La Mama until Sunday February 20, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The audience's physical position can dictate the form and content as well as the resulting impact of a performance. The audience at Skin Flick sit with their eyes at floor level.

Chairs are set under the false stage floor and viewers heads poke through slots in the stage to watch the actors' feet go by.

Skin Flick is a collaboration between two performers, (Vanessa Rowell, Kate Ellis) a designer/director, (Anna Tregloan) lighting designer (Jen Hector) and sound artist. (David Franzke's) It is a novel idea which works only partially.

Franzke's  soundscape is a highlight. It combines  music, sound effects and voice to create an evocative sound environment.

Anna Tregloan's set design intentionally restricts the audience's view, making them a part of the design. It is cleverly lit with light spilling from below floor level, from vertical ultra-violet fluorescent tubes and tiny floor lights.

The two performers, in a series of vignettes, take advantage of the audience's limited perspective. They walk on their hands or on stilts, crawl along the floor, whisper in ears, black out parts of their bodies with lighting or costume.

Each vignette begins with a good idea but none fulfils its promise. They are short but repetitive and so they wear thing quickly. Much of Skin Flick looks like a drama class exercise.

Strangely, the greatest theatrical impact came from the surprise appearance of tiny, quirky objects. Wind-up toy fish suddenly toddle across the floor at eye level, bumping into audience.

A hailstorm of coloured ping-pong balls rains from the roof only to bounce into silence. A bevy of tiny plastic steering wheels are catapulted in the space through a curtain of telephone book pages.

This is a collaborative piece of performance that has no narrative. It is an exploration of body, space and perspective and the relationship between the audience and actor.

Skin Flick fits into a contemporary performance style that abandons the word, story and other actorly pretensions. It relies on the collision of images and resonances arising from actor so very close to audience.

It needs work to give it more substance but the design , as long as you are not claustrophobic, is inspired.

by Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 16 February 2000

It's A Dad Thing by The Dad's Theatre Group
 at Darebin Arts Centre until March.
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Sleep deprivation, screaming, noises in the night, excrement, incarceration, feelings of incompetence, forgetfulness. No, these are not abuses of prisoners of war but symptoms of new fatherhood.

Daddy walking with zombies is the subject of one scene in the very funny It's a Dad Thing. Dads get no sleep and feel guilty if they do. In fact, much of the content of the show is about feeling guilty and incompetent as a parent.

It is honest, personal and funny. These five 30-something dads, directed by David Lander (OK), wrote the show from their own experience that gives it credibility and guts.

Modern dads are still finding their role. Their models were dads who worked, provided and were absent. "Mother does the nursing, thy father will provide." These young dads are searching in the dark for the rules of being a good dad.

The show is a series of sketches, songs and monologues that reveal the hilarious, painful and poignant moments of fatherhood.
All five attend ante-natal classes in which the fascist midwife torments them with their gender, their ignorance and the impending bloodbath which is childbirth.

Geoff Paine is hilariously accurate in his portrayal of a dad who spends hours patting baby to sleep only to hear the traitorous floorboards creak and wake bub as he creeps out.

Michael Fry forgets his son's birthday then loses one child in the park. Colin James, living the isolated life of a house-husband, must admit he cannot cope alone. Matthew Green sings a beautiful song to his own father and Lliam Amor plays Superdad and makes a list of adorable things about babies.

The impact of children on relationships is highlighted. Sex, or rather the absence of it, features.  Mum feels fat and exhausted. Dad can never say the right thing. When he falls into a "fat trap" or makes the mistake of telling the truth about looking at other women, he calls "Bloke Line" for advice.

The show has variety and skill .It is a far better written and more theatrical piece than Mum's The Word and should haul in a huge audience of dad and mums. Perhaps blokes will go to the pub for a beer then to the theatre for a blokes night out to chuckle over their fatherly foibles.

by Kate Herbert

Saturday, 12 February 2000

The Torch, Feb 12 2000

by The Torch Company
at North Melbourne Town Hall until February 20, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The last fifteen minutes of The Torch are filled with potent images and powerful, passionate social commentary. Even after the curtain call, the poignancy continues with Uncle Emanuel Cooper, elder of the Yorta Yorta tribe, singing "In the Sweet By and By".

The Torch is community theatre at its most engaging and effective. It combines professional artists with members of the community, most of whom are non-Anglo Australians, either Kooris or immigrants from all continents. The result is a vibrant, colourful and heartfelt production.

The issues arising are those inherent in our multicultural country. We confront racism, poverty, abuse, conservatism, homelessness and despair. But we also see a growing sense of community and acceptance, some steps toward reconciliation and a pride in our past, wherever it was.

Director, Stefo Nantsou has a deft hand. He devised a clever and socially challenging script with input from the company of actors. He cultivates a fine level of performance in a group of largely non-professional actors.

There are several threads to the story. In Tidy Town in country Australia, the community prepares for the Olympic Torch to be carried through the town. Local resident, Rose (Andrea James) attends her mother's funeral with her father, Bill. (Steve Payne)

Her journey through grief takes her to the city where she confronts hostels, housing commission flats and the ethnic diversity that was absent from her rural life.

The most significant meeting is with an old Koori, Uncle Shady, (Tony Briggs) who knows more about Rose and her past than Rose herself. Rose must reassess who she is, here she fits in and how to live her life.

Nadja Kostich is luminous as the persecuted Serbian immigrant and Sally Mwangola has great dignity as the wife of a Kenyan doctor. Jim Daly is versatile in several roles.

Nantsou creates some truly magical and painful images amongst a stage set of grey boxes. Cultural icons, such as the Unknown Soldier, collide with aboriginal ghosts. A settlement of Kooris are violently moved from their land. Tidy Town residents mass to watch the Torch run .

The international Olympic coverage cameras capture Rose's exceptionally creative no-violent protest action in Tidy Town. It makes a gloriously poetic and admirable ending to this delightful and emotional play.

by Kate Herbert

Killing Time, Feb 12 2000

by Richard Stockwell
Young Roy at Chapel off Chapel until February 27, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Killing Time. If you place the emphasis on the first word it means one thing. If it is on the second the whole meaning alters. This is the intention of English playwright, Richard Stockwell, in his clever thriller of the same name.

The layers keep peeling away as the action advances in Killing Time. The two characters, Rick (Stephen Hayden) and Jane, (Teresa Duke) initially appear simply to be involved in an afternoon seduction. Slowly, the story becomes more complex and the onion layers more numerous as the two reveal one murky secret after another.

The play begins at Rick's rented furnished apartment. He accepted a lift home from Jane after he 'rescued' her at the check-out in the supermarket when she is caught without her wallet.

Rick reveals little until his temper flares. He is dangerous, she is fascinated, or perhaps just bored or angry with her husband and ready to punish him with an affair with some 'rough trade'.

The tension is relentless in Stockwell's script. It smacks of 40's film noir: the rich vamp with a rough husband accused of murdering his mistress meets a rough trade ex-convict masquerading as a corporate executive. Bacall and Bogart could play it with panache.

This competent production, directed by Hayden and Marco Lawrence, is interesting but such a classic murder mystery should be compelling.

The stage craves a more subtle design, atmospheric soundscape and deep shadows thrown against the walls to provide a brooding, secretive tone. There is simply too much light and too little atmosphere on stage.

Hayden plays the attractive but oafish Rick with a roughhouse charm and Duke is credible as the bored, rich wife. The two actors find something of the thriller in the performance but the space is never genuinely dangerous, even when some very violent action takes place.

Stockwell's writing is rhythmic, dramatic and well crafted as a mystery. They need to let go the reins and play the style to give the piece its dynamic range.

by Kate Herbert

Thursday, 10 February 2000

Satellite of Love, Feb 10, 2000

 by Ross Mueller
at Trades Hall  until February 26, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The joys of camping are a mystery to me. There you are, incarcerated in a tiny, steamy, plastic teepee: no room to move, no air to breathe, a long sprint to the loo, loud, drunken neighbours, mud when it rains, mozzies when it's hot. Where's the fun in that? Give me hot running water and a comfy bed any day.

Satellite of Love is close to camping hell.  The play, by Ross Mueller, is set in a cruddy camping ground forty kilometres from Adelaide. Jake (Chris Uhlmann) and his partner Peta (Carmen Mascia) stay there to save money while working the Adelaide Fringe Festival.

Proximity, poverty, heat and Adelaide are like dynamite for their relationship. It needs only a detonator to blow it.

Then a child, Damien, five years old, appears in their tent and stays. With little or no evidence, they believe he is abused by his 'Uncle' so they decide to 'save' him. In fact, they kidnap him.

There are some good moments in this play, particularly in the first half. The premise has potential. The actors narrate the story as well as playing all the ancillary characters. Peta and Jake play car games to stay awake, test each other's knowledge of song lyrics, but mostly they get on each other's nerves.

Both actors play the child who talks a lot for a child described as uncannily quiet. Mascia has a naivete and warmth. Uhlmann is lively although his various characters lack clear differentiation.

The script shifts between narration, short poetic monologues, clipped word plays and more naturalistic scenes.  It rambles and does not settle on a style. The writer's intention is not clear in the end.

The theme of violence exacerbated by claustrophobic heat is interesting. However, the true story of the boy's family life as well as his relationship with the Peta and Jake are abandoned when they takes him on the road.

The narrative goes off on a detour that obscures the issues leaving threads of story incomplete. It hurtles too quickly to an unsatisfying ending.

Elissa Anson's canvas design is simple and effective and Kim Baston's soundscape is unobtrusive. Director, Lyn Coleman, uses a style reminiscent of Theatre in Education. It is peppy and light but it loses much of the darker side of the kidnap and what follows.

by Kate Herbert

Saturday, 5 February 2000

Transporting Art (Tramsporting Art) Feb 10, 2000

Transporting Art (Tramsporting Art), Article
Feb 5, 2000
Writer: Kate Herbert

Whatever happened to those bizarre and controversial painted trams that livened up our roads in the 80's?

The trams, decorated by major artists, were valuable cultural and financial assets to our community but they disappeared off our roads without even an annoying ding of a tram bell to herald their mass exodus.

Norm Cross, tram afficionado and supervisor at Preston tramways depot, has the answer. The first 16, painted in the late 70's, were lost to us when they were sold at public auction to Jim Johnston, an individual who proposed to make a public display of them .

This group were wooden body trams which deteriorated from neglect and exposure.

"They were parked on a site, sitting on blocks and they started to crack and bend and twist and windows were broken," Cross recalls.

For financial reasons, they were sold on again but, this time, they started to leave the country - until the government and National Trust stopped their passports.

The painted tram history started in a restaurant in Collins Street in the late 1970's. Clifton Pugh, who was an ALP supporter, had lunch with Sir Rupert Hamer An all-over advertising tram passed by and Pugh suggested painting one himself. Hamer put it to parliament where both sides of the house supported the idea . The rest is art history.

Six trams were painted by major Australian artists as part of the first campaign. In August 1978, Mirka Mora painted the first tram, followed by Andrew Southall, Mike Brown, Les Kossatz then, in November, Clifton Pugh and Peter Corrigan.

The six were the beginning of a revolutionary form of public art known as Transporting Art. Another ten were commissioned by The Victorian Ministry for the Arts (now Arts Victoria) and Ministry of Transport through the Tramways. By 1982, there were 16 rolling artworks on our tram tracks.

Another 19 were commissioned by government in the early 80's and sponsors were attached to help maintain them. This entire second set was conserved. They are now hibernating in the Newport Tram Workshops, safe from marauding foreign buyers but unappreciated by all but tramway workers.

The first group was less fortunate. Four escaped to the USA- two to Memphis, one to Seattle and another to an unknown destination. Two are owned by a Perth hotel, one is running in Bendigo. A couple were rescued and preserved in back yards of art lovers.

Mirka Mora's angel-covered tram is the happiest. She is nestled in a beautiful garden in Mt Eliza with a foster family. Her natural mum is still in contact.

Howard Arkley's tram now resides in Seymour. Cross recalls it was in a head-on collision. "One end was bashed in and it was never repaired."

Clifton Pugh's tram still sits at Preston awaiting a facelift by one of Pugh's apprentices. One side was wiped out in an accident, says Cross. Sponsors agreed to pay for maintenance and upkeep but many were less than reliable foster parents. Pugh agreed to repaint it himself for nix when he returned from Paris but he died before he could finish it.

Michael Nation, Acting Visual Arts Executive when Transporting Art began recalls one of the great assets of the project.

"There was a wonderful interface between the artists and the tramways apprentices."

Some young signwriters were even invited to help with the paintings in the mode of the Rennaisance schools

Brian Carter supervised the tramways painting workshop and was part of the panel which judged the fist competiton for designs. Each artist did a painting for him, based on the pallette used in his or her tram.  He has thirty mementos of the project. Lucky Brian!

There are some tram horror stories too. One sad little car was hacked in half and attached to Hungry Jack's in Melton. It has disappeared, according to a young burger manager.

Several were broken up or damaged. The funky tram by pop band Mental as Anything was painted over. "It was out of their hands", Cross remembers. The cars were no longer the property of the Tramways or Arts Victoria, so no more could be done to reclaim them.

Peter Corrigan's tram was the most controversial and was taken of the road when it caused a furore in 1979. It flew Japanese flags. One side read, "Sayonara Koala" the other, "Mother Knows". The tramways Union and the public saw this as a swipe at Australian World War Two veterans.

From the 21st century, the uproar seems an overreaction  Bring back the painted trams- even the naughty ones! Melbourne loved them!

by Kate Herbert

Friday, 4 February 2000

Song For A Siren & Tokyo DasSHOKU Girl, Feb 4, 2000

Two Shows:
Song For A Siren by Santha Press
Tokyo DasSHOKU Girl  by Yumi Umiumare
 at Gasworks until February 13, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Sirens may be divinely beautiful and sing songs to melt the hearts of men but let's face it. They are nasty baggages that lure men and their boats onto the rocks to drown.

In Santha Press's musical theatre show, Song For The Siren, Flo dreams of being a siren as she luxuriates in her 30's style iron bath. On the outside, in the real world, she's just some chick with low self-esteem who stammers idiotically when flirting with "petrol station man".

Unfortunately, fantasy does not meet reality. When the romance with petrol boy develops, he is dull, dull, dull.

Original music is played by Lliam Freeman who is also a co-writer of some songs. Some tunes, such as Song For The Siren, have a lyrical quality while others are more bluesy. Press is best when singing in her upper register.

The show integrates the two threads of story and adds some striking visual images on a shadow screen. There is however, something uncomfortable in Press's performance.

The more bizarre, colourful and compelling of the two shows in this season, is Tokyo DasSHOKU Girl by Yumi Umiumare with Matt Crosby and Ben Rogan. 

Tokyo Shock Boys are a Japanese trio of loud annoying boys who think it's hilarious to wrap yourself in a plastic bag on stage till you go blue. The satire of Yumi's title is obvious. 

"DasSHOKU" means "bleached" but is also a pun on a Japanese word meaning approximately "unemployment".

Yumi is a skilful Japanese Butoh dancer interested in the collision of the grotesque and the suburban which creates the ridiculous.

Some of the vignettes are beautiful, stylised physical theatre enhanced by industrial or pop music and Japanese theatre forms. Others are absurd takes on fashion, cuteness in Japan, obsessive priest-like characters, geisha, karaoke and sumo wrestlers.

There is even some kooky audience participation. It seems Yumi did not recognise this theatre critic who was dragged on stage with a man and a cockroach for company, only to be gargled on from on high.

This is pretty bent cabaret, but good entertainment.

by Kate Herbert

Thursday, 3 February 2000

Three Hotels, Feb 3 2000

 by Jon Robin Baitz
 at La Mama until February 13, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Remember the uproar in the western world when Nestles sold baby formula to the third world? Women in Africa had no clean water, could not read the directions, did not understand how to prepare it, diluted it to make it last longer. Children died.

Three Hotels, by US playwright Jon Robin Baitz, is a play with this issue at its core. Kenneth Hoyle (Jeff Keogh OK) is marketing manager for an American company selling formula to developing nations. The problem is that US companies have not helped them develop very far.

Ken became hardened and unscrupulous after a tragic incident in his family. His wife, Barbara, (Susan Gorence) is shattered by the deterioration in her husband's ethics. The couple used to be in the idealistic Peace Corps that offered truly unprejudiced and non-profit aid to countries in need.

Ken and Barb - the resemblance to that similarly named plastic couple must be intentional - are seen in three hotels in three cities: Morocco, The Carribean and Mexico. At each point, the marriage has collapsed a little further while Ken's career seems to be rising - or is it?

The corporate world cares nothing for loyalty. Sales figures, corporate image and the matching designer wife mean everything. Redundancy is a mere slip of the tongue away.

The play raises harsh issues about capitalism and America's relentless abuse and exploitation of third world markets. "People are not real "to these corporate raiders. Community does not exist. Christianity is what we do on Sundays and donations are what we give to presidential candidates.

This production, directed simply by Ezra Bix, maintains an intimate style. Voices are low, actors talk to the audience. Keogh plays Ken as "the gentleman farmer" who lulls clients and staff into a false security. Gorence, as Barb, provides the heart and a sense of anguish.

 Often, the performances are so restrained that the voices are inaudible However, the main drawback in this style is that the dynamic range of this dark and emotional drama is lost. there is passion in both of these characters: love and anger need to be given their heads at some time.

The results of the western world's greed is not merely damage to the third world. Our ethics and our relationships suffer too.

by Kate Herbert

Miles Franklin and The Rainbow's End, Feb 3, 2000

Miles Franklin and The Rainbow's End  by Julia Britton
at Theatre Works until February 12, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

People's lives do not have a dramatic arc; they do not have a climactic event at the appropriate moment to make good drama. It is essential then to take liberties if we do not want to see a play that simply rises and falls until - well, until it stops.

Julia Britton has written a number of literary adaptations for stage, many of which have been directed by Robert Chuter. The latest is Miles Franklin and The Rainbow's End which strolls through the entire lifetime of the Australian writer from 1879 to 1954.

Rebecca Davis is a pretty and engaging Miles who is known as Stella. She talks to the audience and other invisible characters including family, publishers, writers and artists. She is flirted with by Norman Lindsay and Banjo Patterson, befriended by Henry Lawson and his wife.

Davis gives life to Britton's dialogue and effectively creates Stella, a resilient, progressive early feminist. Stella lives in a constant tug-of-war between pursuing a writing career and the pressure to marry that she knows will destroy any hope of a future as a writer.

The performance is set on a very restricted space, which this show shares with Chuter's other production, Homme Fatale. Davis sits at a writing desk, prowls around it as if caged in her various abodes in rural New South Wales, Sydney, Europe or America.

The action is episodic. She fights off unwanted attentions in Chicago, marches for women's suffrage in London, battles the malaria mosquito and war in Macedonia.

It is a courageous life but Franklin failed to succeed in publication after her first novel, My Brilliant Career, which she wrote as a teenager. After she was found to be female, little she wrote reached the printed page.

Ironically, she was published later in life under yet another male pseudonym, Brent of Bin Bin. Her battle to change the prejudice about women as writers was still unsuccessful.

The lack of dynamic development in the narrative leaves the ending of the play an anti-climax. Such a densely written text leaves little room for action or innovation on stage.

 by Kate Herbert

Tuesday, 1 February 2000

Homme Fatale , Feb 1, 2000

by Barry Lowe
 at Theatreworks until February 12, 2000
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Joey Stefano was famous for his bottom. We have to presume his bottom was spectacular because it made him a porn star and a sexual icon for both gay men and straight women. Some bottom, I say.

Of course, "bottom" was also a deprecatory term for the passive partner in anal sex. Joey, who was born just plain old white trash, Italo-Americano, Nick Iacona, craved attention - and sex. The ideal way to satisfy both needs was to make porn movies. His mother called him "an old whore with a drug problem". She was right too.

Barry Lowe's play, Homme Fatale, is a solo play performed by Stuart Halusz . Halusz's bottom features quite prominently too. He is naked at least fifty percent of the 90 minutes which probably roughly equal to Joey's own nakedness-to-time ratio.

This outer perimeter of the gay scene is always an eye-opener for those, like me, who live a sheltered existence in ordinary-land. If this were a television movie it would say, "Sex scenes, language, violence, drugs." Wear your sunglasses.

Halusz is a good actor with an exceptionally sinewy body and sweet face. His is a valiant performance as the beautiful and desperate joey as he overdoses on celebrity, degradation, lust and drugs - lots of drugs.

It is Halusz's sweetness that separates him from Joey. Joey was pure sex on screen and stage. He was fleshy, rough-edged with that inimitable Latin, seductive raunchiness. Halusz is good but he is not quite Joey.

Joey talks constantly, apart from a couple of awkward dance routines. Lowe makes him talk about every thought, every move across the country, every action, every sexual act. The production would be enhanced by some liberal cutting of text

Director, Robert Chuter, keeps the pace cracking, which is the way Joey lived until he died from an overdose in an LA motel room at the age of twenty-six. He killed himself with  "Special K", an animal anaesthetic.

Chuter has Halusz trapped on a narrow film set. Only his clothes and props are tossed out of frame. It is claustrophobic. After ninety minutes, we need some other dramatic action. Couldn't he climb the ladders at the edges of the set?

by Kate Herbert