Wednesday, 30 November 2005

Amendment to Terror, Kevin Summers, Nov 30, 2005

Amendment to Terror by Kevin Summers
 La Mama, Courthouse Theatre, Carlton, Nov 30 until Dec 17, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 30, 2005

Kevin Summers’ play, Amendment to Terror, is a chilling prediction of some possible repercussions of Australia’s proposed new terrorism laws – really chilling.

Amelia (Fabienne Parr) and Nelson (Nigel Johnston) are two callow journalists on a mythical national gossip rag. T their unscrupulous editor, Dan, (Matthew Molony) enlists them to pursue a story about a Green politician. Dan encourages the two to sensationalise the pollie’s indiscreet romantic dalliances and they spin the story out for weeks.

Enter two media consultants (Felicity Soper, Christopher Elliott) for the paper. They question the young journos, attempting to find more dirt on the politician.

The shock comes when the two journalists find themselves incarcerated in interview rooms, divested of normal legal rights and being interrogated by none other than the media consultants who reveal themselves to be ASIO agents.

Suddenly, the young and inexperienced become targets of an investigation into international terrorism.

Summers’ plot is completely credible. The naivete of Nelson, the quiet ambition of Amelia and the aggressive journalistic opportunism of Dan are all believable in the context of a trashy scandal sheet.

The disturbing characters are the intelligence officers. All rights evaporate in the face of the potential threat to national security.

The problem with this production is not the script. It is the rather unimaginative direction (Bec Russell) and the uneven acting of the cast.

A highlight is Parr as Amelia. She inhabits her character fully and without any overacting. Molony finds some comic thuggery in Dan.

The remaining cast seem uncomfortable in their roles and this is no fault of the often clever dialogue. Soper is almost inaudible much of the time, Johnston is not connected to the character or dialogue and Elliott seems awkward in his role.

Summers’ writing is often witty and well observed. The script could start after the first two scenes but it gathers momentum when the interrogations begin.

It is disappointing to be left in the dark about the outcomes of the investigation for the off stage character, Harry Bird, the Green politician. But then, perhaps this is logical in a secret investigation. No one knows anything for sure.

By Kate Herbert

Thursday, 24 November 2005

Prodigal Daughter by Asa Gim Palomera, Nov 24,2005

Prodigal Daughter  
By Asa Gim Palomera 
Women of Asia Company
 Trades Hall, Carlton
Thurs to Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm, Nov 24 to Dec 4, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The central narrative idea of Prodigal Daughter, by Asa Gim Palomera, could be compelling if handled differently. Palomera’s script and direction of this play are both uneven as is the acting.

After over thirty years living in America, the middle-aged Mina (Mandi Sebasio-Ong) returns to her home in South Korea and to her aged mother (Felicity Steel) and younger sister, Teresa (Kaori Hamamoto).

What is interesting in the story is the sublimated anger, the secrets and lies, deceptions and unspoken prejudices between the mother and two sisters. Mina cannot understand why her family is so disdainful of her. Nor does she understand why she was sent to America as a child and abandoned there.

Slowly, the truth of her past and her mother’s guilt and condemnation are revealed. Mina has no recollection of the abuse she suffered as a six year-old at the hands of the military man (David Dawkins).

The strongest performance is from Steel as the mother. Although she contends with the peculiarities of playing a Japanese woman living in Korean and practising Catholicism, Steel is able to credibly inhabit the character, and portray her racial identity and fraught emotional state.

Sebasio-Ong captures some of the complexity of Mina’s predicament but seems unable to penetrate the character at times.

The actors often seem uncomfortable with the dialogue that is frequently overwritten.

There are too many ancillary characters that do not serve the story. The encounters with the General are cryptic and awkward and the scene by the grave of Mina’s father seems tokenistic and cluttered.

Frequent, lengthy and unnecessary scene changes slow the production and become more important than the telling of the story.

There is potential in the design (Daryl Cordell). Three white screens, backlit, allow offstage action to be viewed in silhouette. The bathhouse scene used this convention effectively although the scene did not contribute much to Mina’s story.

The strongest scenes were those that dealt with the emotional life of the characters at the end of the play. We are moved when the mother reveals the truth of Mina’s childhood and when Mina finally recalls her ordeal and confronts her abuser.

There are flaws in the writing, direction and acting in this production. However, the story is not without merit.

By Kate Herbert

Wednesday, 23 November 2005

Short & Sweet: 10 Minute Play Festival, 2005, Nov 23, 2005

Short & Sweet: 10 Minute Play Festival
 Black Box, Arts Centre
Wed to Fri 8pm, Sat 3pm & 8pm  December 10, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is prize money to be made from writing a 10-minute play. The Short & Sweet runs over three weeks with 10 plays featured each week in the main season and another 30 in the Wild Card section on Saturdays.

The ten plays in the Week One program were a mixed bag of lollies. Writing, acting and direction was uneven but there were one or two highlights.

The abstract piece, A Black Cat Kind of Day, (Meg Courtney) has a strong performance from Kelly Trounson as a dead girl who has a fatal asthma attack on the doorstep of a man who slept through her pounding on his door.

The Great Curran is swift and funny political sketch by Neil Cole, an ex-Labour Pollie. Curran uses his colourful personality and language to convince the Arbitration Commissioner (Greg Parker) that a meat worker should not be sacked for swearing at his boss.

Emilie Collyer’s Boxed is the most successful dramatic piece. While an old man listens to the footy, his dead wife’s aged voice is heard but a skilful dancer. (Mia Hollingworth) depicts her youthful self.

Too Dark A Pink (Julian Hobba) is a weak script based on a good comic premise. Dean tells his conservative parents that he is a Socialist and his mother is so horrified, she would prefer he was homosexual.

Cross Purposes (Danielle Elisha) explores Martin Bryant before the Port Arthur massacre. His unfolding obsession with a woman from his childhood is interesting but the writing and collision of the characters’ worlds is clumsy.

The Natashas (Tee O’Neill) is a rather peculiar piece that was part of the Theatre@Risk Wall Project. In a fictional country, a woman discovers that her fiancĂ© is a violent abuser.

Xylophone (Simone Howell) sees plump 70s teenager, Clare obsessing over the anorexic Karen Carpenter during the forty-hour famine.

Mister Subordinate (Samantha Hill) has awkward acting but the idea of a wife being a husband’s boss and firing him raises issues.

Winter Solstice (Susie Alison) does not quite penetrate our factory workers’ plight but tries to reveal something of our Industrial relations laws.

Yoga junkies take a beating in Our Last Time Together, (Fiona Clarke) a parody of yoga class participants.

So start musing on your play idea now. The festival runs at the Arts Centre for three years.

By Kate Herbert

Friday, 18 November 2005

Love by Patricia Cornelius, Malthouse, Nov 18, 2005

Love by Patricia Cornelius 
by Malthouse Theatre
Where and When: Tower Theatre, Malthouse 
 Nov 18 to December 4, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on  Nov 18

Three totally socially dysfunctional characters live like rats in a wheel in Patricia Cornelius’ play, Love.

Tanya (Lisa Sontag), while she is in prison, falls in love at first sight with Annie (Peta Brady). They become inseparable and feed each other’s neuroses, addictions and basic desperate need to love and be loved.

When Tanya ends up back in the clink, Annie, despite her protestations of undying love for Tanya, succumbs to the questionable charms of Lorenzo, AKA Lenny (Simon Maiden), a smarmy, smiling junkie.

Finally, all three end up sharing a single, sordid room, living in a bent love triangle built around Annie’s need to be loved.

The problem is that Annie is the only breadwinner; her prostitution brings in cash for their heroin habits. Tanya looks after the business side, Lenny keeps Annie happy with sex and laughs and Annie sells her childlike 19 year-old body to the nearest bidder. Each takes advantage of the others.

Cornelius depicts the peculiar netherworld of he petty criminal, junkie, uneducated, workless, abused and incapable. Annie expresses her craving for something else, another place, something new, different but she can no sooner name it or achieve it than kick the heroin.

The language is strong, the characters sympathetic but almost irredeemable, their world ludicrous and sad.

All three actors work hard to inhabit their characters but it is Brady, as Annie, who is the most consistently credible. Her frenetic needy behaviour is absolutely believable.

At odd moments, the language and dialogue slips out of the searingly raw and realistic into oddly inappropriate more educated lingo.

The short, sharp scenes work for the early parts of the play but the pave begins to hiccup and the frequent scene changes become annoying. The dialogue is most often clipped short sentences. It is played fast, with plenty of energy but begins to feel repetitive in the latter half.

 Love lacks a clear dynamic arc and loses momentum by the last scene.

By Kate Herbert

Monday, 14 November 2005

End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, MTC, Nov 14, 2005

End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter 
by Ensemble Theatre and Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre,  Nov 14 to December 17, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 14, 2005

People would walk over glass to see Judy Garland perform at her peak. The same applies to Australia’s Caroline O’Connor – and her peak is right now.

A consummate singer, dancer and actor, O’Connor plays the faded, 46 year-old Garland at the embarrassing end of her career.

Peter Quilter’s bio-drama, End of the Rainbow, is a warts-and-all view of Garland‘s final, excruciating cabaret season in 1968 at The Talk of the Town in London.

Garland, suffering from a lifetime of uppers, downers and booze, bankrupt and thrice divorced, is trying to redeem her reputation, salvage her voice and overcome her addictions. She has a new beau, Mickey Deans (Myles Pollard) a younger ex-bartender, who imagines he can secure his fortune and resurrect Judy’s career when better men failed.

Garland’s gay icon status seems central to Quilter’s play. Judy’s pianist, Anthony, (Paul Goddard) is a stitched-up gay, English man whose devotion to the belligerent, drunken Judy is almost incomprehensible.

On-Stage, he attempts to cover her errors and off-stage to protect her from herself, the pills and Mickey. He is unsuccessful in both roles. Judy is her own worst enemy.

O’Connor is magnetic, cunningly treading the line between failed star and genius, vituperative drunk and sparkling comedienne, seasoned performer and terrified debutante.

Quilter focuses on Garland’s inability to function on stage without her pills and drink. Her blind panic before a show resulted from both her addiction and her fans’ expectations of a perfect performance every time.

Despite our perverse fascination with the collapse of a huge star, we crave Judy in her heyday. We wait patiently for the moments when O’Connor breaks into song, when she allows Garland to light up the stage. Perhaps this is why so many who loved her forgave Garland so many transgressions.

O’Connor is a musical phenomenon with a quirky, impish face and body. She eerily inhabits Garland’s persona, creating an echo in time as we peer into Garland’s tattered hotel room, dressing room and her shattered, booze-drenched psyche.

Wayne Harrison directs the show with a focus on O’Connor. Brian Thomson’s design is simple but evocative. The huge letters of Judy’s name stand up like a billboard behind the action. However, the final letter, the “Y”, has tumbled to the floor – just like Judy.

Saturday, 5 November 2005

The Woman Before by Roland Schimmelpfennig, Theatre@Risk, Nov 5, 2005

 The Woman Before by Roland Schimmelpfennig 
by Theatre@Risk
Where and When: fortyfivedownstairs, Nov 5 to 20, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Woman Before, a play by German playwright, Roland Schimmelpfennig, is jam-packed with stylistic and mythical references.

It incorporates elements of the Ancient Greek Medea, a woman scorned, the references to Pandora's Box filled with vice and pestilence and to the femme fatale of the Film Noir.

In spite of all these anachronistic references, the play has a contemporary style and focuses on modern relationships.

Frank (James Wardlaw) is a bumbling, middle-aged man married to the loyal Claudia (Carolyn Bock) for nineteen years. They have an adolescent son, Andi, (Paul Ashcroft) who has a girlfriend, Tina. (Katherine Anderson)

Frank and Claudia's entire life is packed into cardboard boxes ready for shipping to an unspecified destination overseas. When an unknown woman knocks at their door, Frank confronts his past. The scene is set for challenging their years together, their love and their plans for the future.

Romy, the unrecognised woman, (Heather Bolton) arrives unannounced and declares that Frank was her lover 24 years earlier, when both were teenagers. She professes her undying love, reveals her long search for Frank and, most disturbingly, demands he fulfil his promise to love her forever.

From the moment of Romy's arrival, the fabric of the family begins to disintegrate.

Schimmelpfennig employs a structure that manipulates chronology and a cool, even objective style that reduces the emotional intensity.

Snatches of dialogue are played in slow motion with an alienated style then they are seen again in full emotional flight moments later. Dramatic, even tragic scenes are interrupted to show their prelude hours earlier.

The impact is to heighten our objective response to the characters and remove what, in naturalism, would be the inevitable view of Romy as evil or malicious and our automatic sympathy with Frank or Claudia.

Chris Bendall directs with a clear sense of style and character. The almost claustrophobic stage is designed by Peter Corrigan with four doors to represent locations within the apartment. Live cello (Phil McLeod) and evocative lighting (Nick Merrilees) complete the tense atmosphere.

The cast is accomplished. Bolton, as Romy, is almost terrifyingly cool in her relentless obsession. She plays with no edge of mania, which makes the story more credible.

Wardlaw captures the overwhelming confusion and cowardice of Frank and Bock effectively shows Claudia's slide from security to desperation.

Schimmelpfennig has an inventive style and structure that make a simple mystery compelling.

By Kate Herbert