Archive | October, 2012

Savage in Limbo

25 Oct

Firstly, a story.

I used to live with a cop. He was a good man, but he had his personal demons.

One Tuesday morning he came home from a night shift more quiet than usual. I asked him how the shift had been. He’d driven around in a patrol car with his partner. At about 1 am they’d got a pizza. At 3 at a late night servo they’d got Slurpees. At 4 they got a call to a house where a teenage boy had hanged himself.

He’d left a note blaming dad.

‘And what was I doing?’ my flat mate said. ‘Just driving around!’

Then, for a while, he said nothing.

‘If I’d been there,’ he said, ‘I know what I would’ve said: Things change. I know shit all about your dad. Maybe he is the biggest dickhead in the world, I don’t know. But things change. I’m not saying him. I’m saying you.’

For 20 years I’ve told this story to anyone who’ll listen.

I don’t write reviews. I write about what plays make me think and feel.

Savage in Limbo by John Patrick Shanley is about our desire to change. It’s also about our desire to be known. It’s about how these two desires are mutually exclusive.

From this tension, Shanley has created a very funny, very moving play.

And director Stuart Maunder elicits performances of extraordinary energy from his superb cast.

People don’t change. That’s what you hear.

Don’t believe it.

For even if it was true, who of us would be in the position to know it? How much do we actually know of anyone’s life? And who can know what tomorrow holds?

We say people don’t change because it’s simpler. Sadder, but simpler.

The titular character, Denise Savage, played brilliantly by Katherine Beck, has a cracker of a speech about what she calls ‘dead issues’. Everybody’s too damn smart, she complains. No one talks about things, she says, because they already know everything.

But we don’t.

And we need to be reminded that’s a blessing.

Veronica Kaye

Savage in Limbo

TAP Gallery til Nov 3

The Knowledge

15 Oct

School can be a pretty horrible place. And we condemn our kids to 13 years of it. You get less for murder.

The Knowledge by John Donnelly presents a very troubled school. Obviously, the play is not set in Australia. (My teacher friends will recognize my irony. It’s the mother tongue of all who wish to serve but feel constrained by an institution whose purpose is allegedly the same.)

It’s about 140 years since most developed countries introduced universal schooling. One reputed motivation was to remove kids from the misery of the factories. But, being so concerned with the welfare of children, clearly efforts were made to retain some continuity.

With humour and passion Rebecca Martin’s production superbly captures all the flaws of the system. Her extraordinary cast brings to life the struggles of not just one lost generation but three.

For the power of this play is that it reminds us that we don’t actually know what to teach our kids. What exactly is the wisdom we want to pass on?

Literacy and numeracy?

These are beautiful gifts, but without more they easily diminish into mere access to the gutter press and the desire to take out loans.

What should we pass on? It’s a real question.

And schools aren’t equipped to answer it. Why should they be? They’re not – despite some painful similarities – factories, driven by the power of specialization of labour.

The teachers in this play don’t know the answer. That’s its strength. (I’m not espousing the idea that plays raise questions rather than answer them. I think plays very often answer a whole raft of questions; it’s the source of their textual integrity.)

Here the answer is plain: it’s not up to teachers. If we insist on institutionalizing education it’s up to all of us.

The Knowledge is an engaging night of theatre. And like all good theatre, it leaves us with homework.

Veronica Kaye

The Knowledge

New Theatre til 3 Nov

Shine on your play

14 Oct

Every play is a hook on which to hang a masterpiece.

I’m not talking about the process of taking a play from page to stage. I’m talking about our responses to plays.

Recently a friend asked ‘What do you say in the foyer on opening night when the play you’ve just seen is horrible?’

Say it’s wonderful and drink more champagne.

Why does it matter what you think? (The exception to this is if the play is promoting something evil. In that case have even more champagne – then confront the people responsible.)

I’m not suggesting you have to like everything. You can think plays are poorly executed. You can think they’re downright incompetent.

But, remember, artists are not offering themselves up for assessment. Or only the worst are.

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In a society that rightly prides itself on its pluralism, we should be asking ‘What is this trying to say?’ Or, perhaps more importantly, ‘What is this trying to give?’

(You don’t even need to ask ‘What is this trying to do?’ thinking this is the fairest way to judge the play on its own terms. It’s not asking to be judged at all.)

Let’s not turn art into a competency test. Let’s not have our basic response be “Is this good enough?” Good enough for what?

The ‘masterpiece’ I began this essay speaking of is the ability to take ourselves – our ego and our career ambitions – out of the equation. I call it a ‘masterpiece’ because it’s so difficult.

A work of art is a sharing.  Don’t ask merely ‘Was this presented well enough?’ Don’t even ask ‘Is it true?’

Ask ‘In what ways is this true as well?’

Because it is. Accept the gift, and become richer.

Veronica Kaye

(Image is Paul Gilchrist being shone on.)

This is Baby Doll, and Jesus

11 Oct

I was going to write about Factotum Theatre’s Jesus, but only caught the final performance of the run, and was then packed in a suitcase (like a sock puppet) and was whisked off to the Melbourne Fringe.

Charles Mee’s script is sourced from court reports and other records of human misery. It’s a catalogue of  troubled human behavior, from the unusual to the downright horrible.

At one moment, when a character confesses to incest with his daughter, the woman next to me in the audience said, quite loudly, “Gosh.”

I felt a more appropriate response would’ve been “Jesus Fucking Christ!”

Which is one obvious explanation for the title of the play.

Director Liz Arday employs a beautiful simplicity in her staging. In TAP Gallery’s white box theatre, she allows her tremendous cast to tell with an uncluttered honesty their confronting tales. Her directorial decisions, and the actors understated performances, honour the text, and honour the people it presents. It’s deeply moving theatre.

The play asks “Are we our actions?”

It speaks of forgiveness – not to excuse wrong doing, but to see a way forward. And the end of the play is extraordinarily uplifting.

There is, I know, a duality here.

We must be responsible for our actions. We cannot be reduced to them.

And both of these ideas must be held simultaneously, and seriously.

This is the sort of thing theatre can do so well – present multiple viewpoints, in conflict and in coexistence. And Arday and her team have made this miracle happen.

The second reason I suspect this play is entitled Jesus – despite not being what most of us label ‘religious’ – is that the pre-institutionalized carpenter of Nazareth is a spokesperson for forgiveness, for the miracle I have referred to.

I saw the last show of this short run. There’s talk of a remount.

I was deeply affected by Jesus the first time.

I await the Second Coming.

Currently, Factotum Theatre is presenting This is Baby Doll in TAP’s black box theatre.

It’s a script created by Arday from the Tennessee Williams’ play 27 Wagons of Cotton and Elia Kazan’s movie Baby Doll. The marketing claims Arday has “stolen” it, which is indicative of an audacity that shines through this entire production.

Once again, simplicity rules, and rightfully. On a stage lit by a single (though sometimes swinging) globe, a world of passion and deceit is powerfully evoked.

Arday elicits strong performances from her cast, especially Emily Sheehan as Baby Doll. Sheehan’s Baby is a superb portrayal of naïvety.

Baby has been kept a child. She’s a mere pawn in the conflict between the men.

Does this mean the piece is dated?

You meet people who think the gender revolution is over, or very nearly over.

It is not.

It never will be. No revolution is. Every generation makes the world. The task will never be complete.

And that is both a terrible and wonderous thing.

Veronica Kaye

This is Baby Doll

TAP Gallery until Oct 13

Heart Dot Com

9 Oct

I’m not much interested in romantic love.

And I’m not a reviewer.

I write about what plays make me think and feel.

I’m not particularly keen on evaluation. Sure, there’s a place for it. But it smacks of the early stages of a relationship. Before real love develops.

Heart Dot Com deals exactly with that stage.  The ‘desperately hoping someone will find us lovable’ stage. There’s much humour in this – and the deepest of all sadnesses.

And it’s all wonderfully distilled in this multi-artist project. Writers Luke Carson, Ellana Costa, Jasper Marlow, Katie Pollock and Alison Rooke have created characters who itch with desire and ache with loneliness.

From her extraordinary ensemble (Felix Gentle, Paul Hooper, Madeleine Jones, Tim Reuben and Randa Sayed) director Olivia Satchell elicits performances that are both funny and moving. And Satchell’s staging is beautiful – simple and poignant, and the final image is an affecting portrait of shared isolation.

Ok, despite my initial statement, there does seem to be an awful lot of evaluation in this response.

Or is it just affection? Affection for a piece that explores what just might be a universal – the desire to be loved.

I’m not much interested in romantic love.

It won’t save us.

Real love is the connection with all beings, and the wish to limit their pain and help them flourish. It proceeds from the realisation of the strength of their desires and, as a result, the depth of their vulnerability.

And theatre like this is the perfect place to rekindle – or begin – that real love affair.

Veronica Kaye

Heart Dot Com

TAP Gallery until Oct 14