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.