Thursday 25 August 2016

Dawn - Theatre Review

What: Dawn
When: 23-26 August
Where: The Owl and Cat Theatre
Written by: Samantha Cooper
Directed by: Jaime Dorner
Performed by; Lucy Orr, Roxana Paun Trifan, and Damian Vuleta.

Dawn is a thrilling new play by American playwright Samantha Cooper and is showing this week only at The Owl and Cat Theatre. It is an uncompromising play about incest and pulls no punches on any of the people involved. This play has a couple of really surprising twists which you don't see coming, but which tell us so much more about the family than we'd ever have thought to question or perhaps even want to consider.

Director Jaime Dorner is from New Zealand and true to the body of his work it is presented in a very visual aesthetic with clean lines - almost like a photographic stills gallery.  The techniqus is very powerful for this play because it is like flicking through a family photo album. The play itself only runs over an hour but covers two days in the life of these people so perhaps it is more true to say it is like time lapse photography. This has an interesting effect of depersonalising the characters although what is happening is intensely intimate, confusing, and painful. The technique makes it easier for the audience to endure, but I do find myself wondering if it also lets us off the hook in that we don't have to feel with the same intensity as the characters.

I usually don't like to talk about production values when a show doesn't have design support, but I am going to make an exception here. Perhaps one of the reasons I did not feel as connected and effected as I might have liked is because of the lighting. While highly atmospheric, the single lightbulb over the bed meant a lot of monologues which where addressed to the audience where in silhouette so we weren't able to see the faces or feel the pain of the actors speaking in the moment. One of the general rules of the theatre lighting is that we need to see the actors faces and this show is a good example of why this is important.

The performances were uneven, but the script is so good it wasn't such a problem. Trifan really stood out for me as the mother and I really missed not being able to connect with her in her monologues. Orr as the daughter was adequate although I got confused about the age of the character. She was doing homework and needing help but at one point I thought they said something about her being 18 which really dilutes the whole story. The question then becomes why would she stay and is it really as horrifying at that age when one would assume she has some agency.

Vuleta as the father is badly miscast. It is not that his acting is at fault, it is more that he is just not right for the role. He is more psychopath rather than brutal control freak. The direction also doesn't help. In an early scene with Jo (Trifan), a scene meant to demonstrate his control and unpredictability, Dorner has directed it as sweet and loving game of chasey around the bed which dominates the playing space. This makes it really hard for Trifan to get her character to where she needs to be to make sense of her relationship with the daughter.

Dawn is an exciting, tense, surprising, and well written play and is a good example of the direction The Owl and Cat are heading. Having recently declared their intention to only produce world premier plays, they are situated somewhere between La Mama and Red Stitch and will appeal to both audiences. I can see them becoming a Melbourne institution.

3.5 Stars

Thursday 11 August 2016

The Whistleblower - Theatre Review

What: The Whistleblower
Where: Metanoia Theatre
When: 10 - 21 August
Written by: Andrew R. Kelly
Directed by: Robin Thomas
Performed by: Blake Barnard, Mitchel Edwards, Scott Leek, Raymond Martini, Paul Fergus Morris, Nick Rijs, Mish Wittrup, and Eliza Woods.
Sound by: Tom Backhaus

The Whistleblower is a new play written by Swan Hill playwright Andrew R. Kelly and has been produced by Bakers Dozen Theatre Company. It is being performed at Metanoia and it is exciting to see their studio space activated in this manner. Presented in the round with an astroturf floor my heart skipped a beat in anticipation of a lively and intriguing night of theatre.

What ensued, however, was a night of anger and frustration and a desperate wish to be able to walk out with dignity. I probably should have walked out anyway. This is not a comment on the company or the production. It was the play itself which offended me from the very first scene and never recovered from that position.

The Whistleblower is ostensibly about a disenfranchised middle aged man who is searching for his identity. The program notes call it 'a man on a journey of self-discovery'. To be honest, I don't care if Clive (played by Rijs) ever finds himself. He's better off not knowing.

The play opens with Clive abusing his wife - 'Iris the Virus' as his friend Merv (played by Morris) calls her - and blaming her for everything wrong in his life. The point at which I got really angry was 'the next morning' when Iris (played by Wittrup) actually apologised for upsetting him and takes all the blame!

It does not improve from there. Merv calls his wife 'the handbrake', and the only other woman in the play, Susie (played by Wood) is a domestic violence surviver who is now in a relationship with a psychopath. Whilst most of the vitriol is towards women, the play does manage to offend the LGBTI community and the disabled as well.

The premise is that the regional football umpire's association is a place for the poor disaffected white male priveleged middleclass man to go and be a man and reclaim himself. Clive wails the eternal lament that men have to live and work with women, and in doing that they lose their manhood. I have heard this refrain before, bemoaned by the Melbourne events social group The Gentlemen's Club who used it as an excuse to socialise and network to the exclusion of women. Boo hoo.

The play does have some interesting mechanisms. I really liked the actual game play scenes where the umpires are working on the field. Clever writing and clever direction. There is also the iconic Statler and Waldorf pair in the shape of Butch (Edwards) and Nugget (Barnard). Ostensibly the play is also about corruption and Clive is set up to be the moral champion - after spending most of the play being a complete tosser - who has the 'balls' to stand up to Sarj (Leek) and save the day. I admit by that time I wasn't buying what Kelly was selling.

I like Bakers Dozen as a company and I loved what they did with Comedy of Errors. One of the comments I made in my review back then was that I was deeply impressed with their level of understanding of their characters. I cannot say the same for this production. I am not convinced many of them truly dug into the text for meaning, although it was so repugnant I don't blame them for resisting.

Wittrup as Iris was probably the standout although her character is kind of pointless. This makes her performance even more remarkable I think. Leek was good as Sarj, Morris was surprisingly likeable as 'Merv the Perv', and Martini carried his role of clown well as Feliciano, the blind umpire.

The Whistleblower is a hard play to watch because noone is liked and noone is likeable. Even if you like AFL, the umpires are derided and called maggots more times than I can remember. I know it is a bit of a national sport to deride umpires, but I just couldn't find the good nature in any of it. It's just mean.

Sarj constantly asks 'Are you marking what I'm kicking' and I have to say no. He also says 'Umpires don't make mistakes, Clive. They make decisions.' Don't make this mistake. Save your money for Bakers Dozen's next production, The Removalists.

1 star.

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