When: 2 - 8 April 2018
Where: The Butterfly Club
Written and performed by: Chelsea Zeller
Directed by: Samuel Russo
Zeller didn't disappoint. As I commented in the High Achievers review, Zeller has an amazing ability to perform multiple characters without a single misstep. She totally understands the connection between voice, body and character and in Massive Bitch she once again demonstrates her world class skill playing somewhere around ten characters in this TV talk show parody.
Massive Bitch is satire in the vein of ABC's Get Krack!n although Zeller's work is not farce. Perhaps a closer pairing can be found in Chamber Made Opera's production Crossing Live in 2007.
The story is the taping of the 50th episode of a morning show and the last one for Victoria the 'bitch' producer who expects a promotion and the ability to move on. Victoria uses controversy to win the rating's war and takes credit for advising Sonia Kruger to admit to be honest about her opinion of Muslim immigrants would make good TV. Victoria spirals between patronising, obsequious, and a raging bull to get this episode on air, but the more she pushes, the more things spiral out of control.
The supporting characters are fantastic, with the laconic camera man, John, getting the show started, a fun parody of Scary Spice in the Jenny Craig ads, an astrally disfunctional psychic guest, and Hugh - a cohost who gets his very own Tootsie moment littering the stage. Zeller switches between them all with mastery, commitment, and a delicate understanding of who they all are and why they are there. Well almost.
Where the show falls down is in the dramaturgy. Zeller wrote this piece herself this time, and whilst her acting is phenomenal, she needs to work on story structure and the proportional weight of characters. Oh, and titles too. I hate the title of this show and would never have come if not invited for that reason alone, but then I would have missed some fabulous ideas and brilliant acting.
Victoria is the 'massive bitch' in question but she really doesn't get a lot of stage time in this manic morning show filming schedule. Because of that, we don't get to really understand why she is a bitch (to me it just looked like a frustrating day - but then I have been called a massive bitch many times too...). This only really matters because Zeller has created a beautiful and touching and quite unexpected ending - but it kind of comes out of nowhere and as an audience member it jars rather than being satisfying.
Russo's direction did not impress me much. Last year in High Achievers the transformation between characters was aided with jackets and other acoutrements. This year they have forgone any costuming or props (except a stool). This is fine because Zeller is skilled enough to do all the work herself without even the hint of confusion or vagueness.
Sadly, Russo did not trust her enough so he has incorporated the 'turn away from the audience so they know there is a new character' technique which really gets in the way and becomes very tedious - much like theatre productions which use blackouts between every scene. Some of the transitions are cleverly handled but as the pace picks up they become more functional and obvious and irritating - and completely unnecessary.
Zeller never disappoints as a performer. She creates clear, clever and hilarious characters. The rest will come.