WHAT: Maya Drive
WHERE: La Mama HQ
WHEN: July 27 - August 7 2022
WRITTEN BY: Milton
DIRECTED BY: Jonathan Shaw
COSTUMES BY: Jane Hyland
LIGHTING & STAGE MANAGEMENT BY: Chuck Martin
PERFORMED BY: Stella Economou, Cassiel Garward, Emma Jo McKay, Tom Pickering, Lily Thomson, Matthew Richard Walsh,
|Matthew Richard Walsh, Lily Thomson, Cassiel Garward - photo by Darren Gill
This is the second show by Milton (playwright) to be performed at La Mama. Based on reviews of the previous work - Chronic - I suggest Maya Drive shows a much greater focus and control. It has the added bonus of exposing a playwright who understands words and dialogue have an art of their own - separate but inseparable from discourse and chatter. Milton has written a play in which the words are visceral and musical and harsh and pleading.
Swirling around the stories of Gilgamesh and the Mayan Calendar 'end of days' panic of 2012, Milton traces Ben's (Garward) struggle to stay in the present and stay connected to the people around him. We watch the demise of his relationship with Cori (Economou), and his struggle to maintain his support network - his brother Cam (Pickering), and his dad Ray (Walsh). This is complicated because of the family history with mental health which includes the death of his mother Helen (Cooper) when he is a young child. Milton manages to round this off with the colatoral damage in Cam's relationship with Shelley (McKay).
The play starts strongly with a David Lynch style psychological thriller vibe. Ben wakes up confused, gets in his car and drives. As he drives he starts to fall asleep but a guardian angel appears and gently wakes him up over and over again. This scene is so simple and elegant and there are several movement sequences throughout the show which echo a kind of astral connection/guidance. (According to the program the characters are also called Taurus, Aquarius, Leo, Aries, Scorpio, etc.). The others aren't as powerful, and are too long, but they manage to hold the tension... until the final scene which totters on the edge parody. Luckily it ends just in time to prevent falling into pure Terry Pratchett.
The play itself has been finely crafted . Ben wanders through his relationships, lost in time and space and waking up at intervals not knowing where he is or how he got there. A particularly poignant moment occurs when his father tells him to look for his hands before descending into his own mental traumas.
What lets the show down is the direction (Shaw) and costumes (Hyland). I was shocked to discover Hyland is an experienced designer. All I have to say to her is NO! Go back, read the play, and figure out who these characters are and what they are doing in the structure of the play.
Shaw, on the other hand, is a novice director. That this is his directorial debut is evident in the performances. For the most part, the actors are great and understand what they are doing, but their performances are all pitched at different levels as if they are all in different plays (or, in some cases, on the set of Neighbours).
Economou is playing in a Commedia show, whereas Garward is apparently on a TV set where his acting doesn't have to extend into his body. In my opinion Pickering and Thomson are the only two who have pitched their performances on point. McKay is good, but again, the director hasn't helped her understand the play starts at the end of her story, not at the beginning. Nothing that happens to Shelley is new information. Shelley is not discovering Ben has a problem - she has been dealing with it for years and this night is the inciting incident which heralds the doom of her hopes and dreams, the end of her relationship with Cam.
In the end though, none of this matters because Milton's play is complex and intriguing. It explores how non-linear the human mind can be and is a tale as epic as that of the story of Gilgamesh. Ben is in a constant battle between myth and reality and myth is very seductive indeed. He struggles to understand his world and his place in it.
The true gift Milton gives us is in Maya Drive is the understanding that this is not one battle which will be fought and won. Rather it is a lifelong war and every time Ben chooses living in the air over "living in myth" he has won a hill. Milton also doesn't even pretend to try and tell us how long Ben can keep going. This is a story which doesn't end until it does.