Pale Face Cold Blood – PICA, 12 Feb 2015
A young Iranian woman, Zara, finds herself translating for refugees on Manus Island and ends up witnessing an shockingly gruesome act of violence that she can’t manage to shake. After returning to Australia, she goes about her life as an immigrant, feeling disconnected both from her homeland and her adopted country. Her disconnect is exacerbated by the memory of events at Manus Island and her inability to find much in common with the Australian men she attempts to date after a breakup with the man she immigrated with.
While she tells Zara’s story, performer Mina Mokhtarani goes through a boxing workout. She begins by jumping rope, then does lifts and squats with hand weights, shadow boxing, and finally gets stuck into a punching bag. She travels around the stage as she goes, sometimes seemingly talking directly to individual audience members, other times appearing to address no one in particular. Naturally, she becomes slightly breathless, but her monologue never becomes unintelligible. After she details her experiences on Manus Island, the narrative loses focus, although there are moments that provide some interesting food for thought. In the end, the workout drove a wedge between us and Mokhtarani, making it difficult to connect and empathise with her character; it’s an experiment in physicality that doesn’t pay off because we’re too focused on how the workout takes its toll on the performer, rather than focused on the important story she’s trying to tell.
Last Rounds – The Blue Room, 13 Feb 2015
South African playwright and director Tara Notcutt presents Last Rounds, performed by Rebecca Makin-Taylor, a one-woman monologue about Victoria, a woman waiting for her man at a bar in the wee hours of the morning. She proceeds to explain her night to us, but it’s been a long one, fuelled by plenty of the hard stuff, so her narrative is justifiably difficult to piece together. She jumps forwards and backwards through events, but basically, she’s been on a hen’s night in a party bus where she’s met a woman who has a particular connection to the man she’s been seeing. She talks about struggles maintaining relationships with other women, being teased and ostracized as a child, former boyfriends and lovers, and her favorite music.
Makin-Taylor is engaging as this rebellious woman who refuses to follow the straight and narrow path that she believes is set out for most of her peers. She’s casual and open, but it takes a while for her to get to the heart of the matter and to really lay bare her inner turmoil. Once she does get to the emotional meat of the piece, gets up off the chair she’s been sitting in and shows vulnerability, she does fine work. Her story will be familiar to many; who hasn’t sat at a bar waiting for someone, something to walk through the door, or sat by the phone waiting for that one person to call? Even if you never have, Makin-Taylor shows you exactly what it feels like.
And Now for Something Completely Wireless – The Blue Room, 13 Feb 2015
You don’t often see a lot of full-length improvised shows at The Blue Room, but the guys from Racing Minds are a welcome addition to the Summer Nights line-up. This is an improvised 50s-style radio show based on who/what/where suggestions from the audience submitted on slips of paper. This is standard operating procedure for improv, but the results with And Now.. are unique and excellent good fun. These guys have enlisted the help of a different local Perthonality or well-known improv comedian each night to do Foley for the radio program. This makes for an extra-extra-risky element; the guest Foley artist has to try their best to get in the groove with the guys, who would obviously be ahead of the game, given they’ve developed and performed this show in other towns and other countries. Sometimes it works, sometimes the guest improviser sticks out like a sore thumb, but if they’ve been around the block, the guest know how to spin their awkward offerings into something that will get a laugh in the end. Or if not, the Racing Minds guys are quick to pick up the loose thread.
The humor is a blend of sophisticated, absurd and silly. Each improviser has his own particular style and can play different stereotypes, but they mix together like a fine cocktail. One troupe member in particular, Chris Turner, took my fancy and tickled my nerd funny bone so much that I went and saw his solo show XXV at The Stables, which, on a side note, was also outstanding and completely caught me off guard. Turner is a particularly skilled freestyle rapper, but looks like the guy you used to cheat off of in high school.
In any case, if you’re in need of a good hearty laugh, Racing Minds won’t let you down.
Only You Can Save Us – The Blue Room, 14 Feb 2015
The Sekrit Project from Sydney have devised a sci-fi spoof/cabaret/dance project. If that sounds a bit difficult to pin down, well, that’s exactly how it presents. There is plenty of enthusiasm on stage, and some very good performers from in this group, but unfortunately the show really suffers from a lack of focus. It doesn’t know what it wants to be, and though it wants to say a lot of things, it ends up trying to say too much.
The five performers reminisce about a time when their imaginations let them be whatever they wanted as kids, and all of a sudden they collectively decide to become a crew on a spaceship. Each performer has a stock character in this kind of play within a play, but periodically one actor breaks out and delivers a monologue or a song. There is a hero, a love interest (who is “a fully realised character in her own right,” according to her), a villain, a science officer, and a sidekick. They play on every movie trope under the sun; instead of relying on one or two tropes with a wink to the audience to say, ‘we’re in on the joke,’ they run through a list of every possible cliched motivation for the villain’s treachery. We get it, we get that you get it; please don’t beat that poor dead horse. But ok, they’re obviously a smart and talented group, so maybe a dramaturg could help them find some focus and work on a streamlined version of this show, which could hit the mark for sci-fi/B-movie nerds.