Thursday 17 October 2019

The Disappearing Trilogy - Theatre Review

What: The Disappearing Trilogy
When: 16 - 27 October 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written and performed by: Suzie Hardgrave
Set and Lighting by: Bronwyn Pringle
Sound by: Chris Wenn
Stage Management by: Teri Steer
Suzie Hardgrave - image by Darren Gill
La Mama is often the place to see practice-led doctoral projects from universities across Melbourne and the latest is a work by Suzie Hardgrave, The Disappearing Trilogy. Investigating the disappearance of the female actor into her roles and out of herself, this dramatic triptych runs until 27 October.

Hardgrave has engaged in an international career as a performer and researcher and is currently completing her doctoral studies at Monash University. Her studies appear to be examining the identity of 'actress' and '...why and how expectations of performance affect the female in Western culture' - if I read the program notes correctly.

The Disappearing Trilogy is a 3-part sequence. The first is spoken narrative and addresses the internal loss of self worth and identity after the actress' show closes with a 1 star review. In the second section Hardgave explores body art as her mode of storytelling as the voice over narrative talks about the pressures of physically meeting industry demands of embodying characters and the notion of the celebrity as identity. The final section involves Hardgrave stepping out of the frame and relating as her true self, but is there any authentic person left under the veneer of the actress?

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this show for me was the writing style. Riffing off poetic stylings of feminist icon Gertrude Stein, Hardgrave has written her text in a cubist style (which is mildly referenced in Pringle's sophisticated and restrained set design). This is particularly true in part 1 of the trilogy as repetition is used as a building block, the text torn apart and reconstructed time and time again to reveal nuance and detail - to build a 360 degree picture of this actress in pain.

My only wish is that there was less. In a 90 minute show, the first hour is this endless, repetitious refrain about a 1 star review and the "after, after, after party". What had the potential to be a incisive commentary on how linked the actor ego is to public reception of the work they are involved in became a self-indulgent, self-pitying quagmire of tedium. Shorten it by 15 minutes and the humour will have a chance to shine through as well as the idea that the show is not the actor and the actor is not the show.

Luckily parts 2 and 3 are a more respectable 15 minutes each and, for the most part, much more effective. I loved the analogy of body art in part 2 with the commentary on the ridiculous lengths the actress goes to in order to become a star. Whilst there are strong references to an abusive agent, in the end I did find myself thinking how self-inflicted all of the pain and confusion of the actress and her identity crisis was. Hardgrave does in fact talk about acting as addiction.

The second act also brought Pringle's aesthetics as a lighting designer back into focus. Part 1 was very stark, although incredibly sophisticated - more in line with designs by Niklas Pajanti. In part 2 though, Pringle brought back her trademark use of colour (without losing sophistication) and in part 3 I was in awe at the hint of surrealism she sneaks into the frame. Except for the ridiculous amount of smoke used throughout the show (which was also aesthetically inappropriate IMO), Pringle managed to create the actor as a gallery portrait with all of the talent and magic of master painters through the ages.

The final section of the trilogy was less successful for me. The actress steps out of her frame, removing the wall between her and the audience. Hardgrave speaks again and this time it is supposed to be real and improvised, but it is quite clear through her delivery that this is as practiced and rehearsed and scripted as the rest of the show. It is a pity really, because if Hardgrave could have found that authenticity of the immediate voice, and with the wonderful interactions of Wenn's sound design, her retreat back into the frame and her self-imposed prison/shield/screen would have been so much more powerful.

I like the meta-ideas in the construction of The Disappearing Trilogy, but I would have liked them to be referenced more strongly in the text. It is hard to be self-referential and not self-indulgent in a one person show and Hardgrave hasn't quite found that line. Some stricter script dramaturgy would help, as would a more 21st century post-truth approach to the work.

2.5 Stars

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