Archive | June, 2014

The Mercy Seat

30 Jun

Two mean spirited people with American accents remain in a room and argue about their relationship for 100 mins (including a 15 minute interval).

For many people, this would be the archetypal modern play. Which is why they stay at home.

But, in this case, context is all.  Our couple are arguing about their future while the rest of America, and much of the world, is in shock.

It is New York. It is September 12, 2001.

What to many was an unfathomable tragedy is to our couple an opportunity. They’re having an affair. He is married with children. Perhaps yesterday morning he was in one of the towers when the planes struck, instead of at his mistress’ place having his penis sucked. Is it their chance to just disappear and start again?

photo by Katy Green Loughrey

photo by Katy Green Loughrey

This production of Neil LaBute’s play is both funny and confronting. The performances by Rebecca Martin and Patrick Magee are powerful and intriguing.

Are we meant to take the characters as real people? Is this play gritty naturalism? If it is, it’s a vision of humanity so bleak that it approaches the immoral. (There’s a school of theatre that equates negativity with truthfulness. It’s the philosophy of those who wish to grant themselves moral holidays. If it’s just human nature to act dreadfully, how can my behaviour be at fault?)

The challenge of this play is the context. Presumably none of us have been in the situation represented.

Or have we?

Many of us are tempted to think the world is screwed, that it’s a chaotic mess, and that we’re all going to hell in a hand cart. I call it a temptation because it allows us to believe that it’s justifiable to be entirely self seeking. After all, in extremis, the call goes out “Every man for himself”.

The Mercy Seat is an intelligent and thought provoking production, a timely reminder that we must not use the magnitude of our society’s problems as an excuse to grant ourselves moral holidays.

Veronica Kaye

 

The Mercy Seat by Neil LaBute

Old Fitzroy Theatre til 5 July

http://www.sitco.net.au/

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My Name is Truda Vitz

27 Jun

My Name is Truda Vitz, written and performed by Olivia Satchell, and directed by Pierce Wilcox, is a moving exploration of personal ties and the power of imagination. With stunning visual images and Satchell’s performance on the cello, it’s also a treat for the senses.

Satchell tells the story of three generations; herself, her father Paul, and her grandmother Truda. She slips between the characters with an unadorned simplicity. She forces nothing. These characters – these people – are granted dignity.

The most fascinating aspect of this personal history is that Satchell never met her grandmother. The closest she will ever get to her is in this play, she says.

Her grandmother’s personal history is therefore imagined. There are ‘facts’: the date Truda fled Vienna as a seventeen year old in order to escape persecution as a Jew; the date she was married; the date she was finally accepted as a British citizen after years of being an ‘illegal alien’. But the majority of Truda’s story is invented. As Satchell says, even if it didn’t happen to Truda, it probably happened to someone.

TRUDA7

One of the greatest tensions in life, and one that fuels the dramatic impulse, is that between otherness and empathy.

I sometimes suspect that every dramatist is a solipsist is denial. After all, how can we really know other people? I can never see through someone else’s eyes or walk around in their body. In fact, one of the most important gifts we can give someone else is an acknowledgement of our own limitations. I don’t know you. I can’t predict your behaviour. You can surprise me. I accept your otherness.

The other side of the coin is that we must make assumptions about people. If we don’t, our ethical systems falter. I have to be able to predict what causes you pain or gives you joy. And since I can’t know these things infallibly, or even contingently, it’s up to my imagination to make the human connection.

Ignorance and imagination. I don’t know you but I’ll try to guess.

It’s this gentle, warm balance that makes My Name is Truda Vitz such a beautiful piece of theatre.

Veronica Kaye

 

My Name is Truda Vitz by Olivia Satchell

Somersault Theatre Company

at TAP Gallery til July 6

http://somersaulttheatre.com/my-name-is-truda-vitz/

The Violent Outburst That Drew Me To You

25 Jun

Why do people keep telling me what to do with my life?

Finegan Kruckemeyer’s play is an intriguing exploration of teenage anger, positing both causes and solutions.

And Kate Gaul’s production of The Violent Outburst That Drew Me To You is extremely engaging theatre.

It’s visually exciting, with snappy dialogue and high energy performances (yes, I’m obviously holding down the cliché key on my keyboard).

Kruckemeyer’s script is a brilliant blend of both imitation and parody of teenage language – which is exactly what teenagers do. (How many adults parody their own language use?* Or, indeed, themselves?) And the cast do great work with Kruckemeyer’s words, finding their zing and mining their spirited humour.

 PHOTO BY HEIDRUN LOHAR


PHOTO BY HEIDRUN LOHAR

Michael Cutrupi is terrific as Connor, the angry teen.

Connor has difficulties at both home and school. Emily Ayoub and Anthony Weir give top portraits of dull-but-caring parents. Renee Heys produces a wonderfully vibrant school girl. Natalia Ladyko’s endlessly patient but smart-mouthed teacher is superb.

In an attempt to solve his difficulties, Connor is sent ‘into the woods’ to find himself. (Which is a little different from the way most teenage boys find themselves.) There he meets Lotte, another teenager with anger issues. She’s played by the three female members of the cast and it’s a device which effectively suggests the personality shattering effect of anger. It also helps push this sequence of the play into a sort of magical realism, and prevents the play’s conclusion from feeling too neat.

For our vision of the world is coloured by our emotions, and it is in our teenage years that this frightening and thrilling discovery is made.

Veronica Kaye

*The exception, of course, is theatre reviewers.

 

The Violent Outburst That Drew Me To You by Finegan Kruckemeyer

SBW Stables Theatre (Griffin) til 12 July

http://www.griffintheatre.com.au/

 

 

What is wrong with Australian Theatre?

18 Jun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them

10 Jun

Firstly, Why Torture is Wrong, and The People who Love Them is  ‘good’ theatre.

Now a digression:

A while back, standing in a crowded foyer, a friend of a friend shocked me by saying “Bad theatre is like being tortured”.

My heart went out to her.

I felt awful. I had thought she was just another complacent, comfortable, middle-class theatre goer.

But no. Perhaps, I thought, she’s a recovering victim of some deranged sociopath. Or, possibly, she’s an escaped dissident from a brutally repressive regime.

Or most likely, like myself, she was just another complacent comfortable middle class theatre goer who enjoyed indulging in absurdly hyperbolic language simply because her life of unparalleled privilege supplied her with everything she needed – except the occasional jolt of excitement to remind her she was alive.

This might be wild speculation, but I suspect sitting through an hour or so of less-than-engaging theatre bears very little resemblance to having electrodes attached to your genitals.

But if you choose to dumbly divide the entirety of existence into the simple categories of the good and the bad, with everything either on one side or the other of that enormous world-dominating watershed, then I guess torture and ‘bad’ theatre might sit on the same side, the very same side as suffering a terminal illness and having dandruff.

Digression over.

Photographs © Bob Seary

Photographs © Bob Seary

Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them is a very funny and fabulously performed satire.

Director Melita Rowston does a fantastic job with Christopher Durang’s script. The performances are joyfully hyperbolic.

Terry Karabelas and Peter Astridge present perfectly pitched in-your-face alpha males.

The female characters are fascinating responses to the male absurdity. Ainslie McGlynn gives us a wonderfully flighty small ‘l’ liberal. Romy Bartz gives us Hildegarde, painfully and hilariously in love with a right wing lunatic. (What’s Sylvia Plath’s line about every woman adoring a fascist?*) And Luella is my comic favourite, played brilliantly by Alice Livingstone. Luella retreats from her domineering husband, and reality in general, through an obsession with theatre. (Yes, lets worry about theatre. There’s nothing else important going on in the world. Like torture.)

And while having terrific fun with these over-the-top characters, the final scene is thought-provoking, and an acknowledgement that satire is not the solution to the great world-dominating watershed between left and right.

It’s a brave move, laying down your greatest weapon, but it’s probably the way forward.

Veronica Kaye

* The line is “Every woman adores a Fascist”.

 

Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them By Christopher Durang

at New Theatre til 28 June

http://newtheatre.org.au/