Tag Archives: Cherry Smoke

Cherry Smoke

2 Apr

Theatre is a weird art form. (Though, they all are, if you think about it.) What’s odd about theatre is the predominance of interpretive artists. Compare it to visual arts and literature, which are filled with creative artists.

Let me explain. If you buy a play from overseas, or dip back into the canon, no-one in your team is doing the original creative work. Everyone is interpreting what already exists. And, in theatre, this is par for the course. (It could be argued it’s what actors and directors always do, no matter from where the play is sourced.)

In theatre, no-one blinks an eye when you choose to produce, say, Hamlet … again. What is important is your take on the play. On opening night your hope is not that someone will say something like “Where’s the playwright? I got to meet the guy who absolutely nailed the debilitating chasm between the brutal simplicity of action and the rich ambiguity of thought.” No, you hope the buzz is more: “Swahili speaking puppets? What a brilliant choice!”

As result, we get what I call “cover theatre” – in the way a band is said to do a “cover” when they play a song they didn’t write. Those sort of musicians are usually relegated to RSL clubs, but fortunately, in theatre, there’s no such privileging of originality. (And, please, read to the conclusion of my review before concluding my attitude to this phenomena.)

Consider Crisscross’ production of James McManus’ Cherry Smoke. The play is American and has been kicking around for a decade or so. But, here and now, director Charlie Vaux’s production is an invitation to an intriguingly foreign world. It’s brutal; these characters are from the south of the US, and they’re seriously down and out. Cherry (Meg Hyeronimus) is homeless, effectively abandoned by her deeply damaged, and damaging, family. She looks for more in Fish (Tom Dawson), her “angel”, but he was forced into the boxing ring as a child, and so violence, and the incarceration that often follows, is his existence. He knows there’s something wrong with the “wires” in his head. Duffy (Fraser Crane) tries to guide Fish, but it’s a challenging task, especially when his garage barely breaks even and his own relationship with Bug (Alice Birbara) is troubled. She desperately wants a baby, and her childminding and occasional midwifery is, in Fish’s words, like being an alcho working in a bar. She “hates God” because He won’t give her what she feels she needs.

How do you find hope in such a world? Well, Cherry espouses a sort of soft-metal romanticism. It’s tough, sensual and hyperbolic. She calls Fish “Baby” a lot, and can’t eat, or breathe (she says) without him. She claims Jesus once lit her cigarette, with His finger. The smoke was cherry coloured. She offered Him one, but apparently He’s trying to quit. Her conclusion: He’s broken – just as they all are. There’s little more religion than that in the play, but the sequence evokes perfectly the pathos of weaving meaning from scraps.

We do cover theatre like this because it reminds us of basics. The world of the characters is one in which a “meanness” swirls endlessly, and lands randomly, refusing to be shaken off. In this world, posited by McManus and brought back to life here by Vaux and his committed cast, we meet again those age old problems of suffering and evil.

And so, in KXT’s cool new space in Broadway, we’re invited to a foreign place, to be reminded of our common humanity.   

Paul Gilchrist

Cherry Smoke by James McManus

presented by Crisscross Productions in association with Bakehouse Theatre

until April 8 at KXT Broadway


Image by Abraham de Souza