Moving On, Inc. – The Blue Room, 18 Feb 2015
Writer/director Mikala Westall makes a very promising debut at the helm with her new play Moving On Inc. She’s gathered a trio of fine actors who handle her naturalistic text with ease. The premise of her show is based on a real life friend of hers who sorts through and packs away the belongings of the recently deceased. In Westall’s play, the young woman Abby (Harriet Gordon-Anderson) who works at Moving On Inc. has decided to take a trip out to the bush to burn her late father’s possessions as a sort of last goodbye. She and her boyfriend Sam (Barnaby Pollock) crash just outside their destination due to a near-miss with a mysterious woman in the road. When the mysterious woman, Ruth (Nicola Bartlett) shows up to offer them assistance, things get a little spooky, and Abby and Sam are forced to confront their pasts in unexpected ways. From the moment Ruth shows up on scene, we know something’s a little unusual about her presence. She’s evasive, and it’s unclear why she’s out in the bush all by herself. It’s not long before we pick up on just how she fits into the picture between Abby and Sam, and we’re just waiting for them to catch up with us. Structurally this may be a shortcoming, but I think since the evolution of the relationships between the three characters is the most important feature of this work, it doesn’t necessarily take away from the piece’s overall strength. Westall clearly has a handle on her dialogue, and the actors work off each other well, each demonstrating a clear emotional journey over the hour.
WARD 9 – The Blue Room, 18 Feb 2015
Ward 9 is an odd character piece that suffered from contextual ambiguity. Four actors enter the stage talking to each other and commence changing into new clothes; after that’s finished, they each take turns at a monologue. They all appear to be troubled in some way, emotionally disturbed or developmentally disabled. One or two characters appear to be disadvantaged in other ways that lead them to act criminally, while one appears to have very strong political views that land her on the margins. The description on their Facebook event states that their family members send them into a rehab program in “Ward 9,” but nowhere is this explained in the show, so we’re left to try and make sense of the circumstances. This is a decent set of monologues, each one taken in isolation, but as a whole, I have trouble understanding what purpose these stories serve collectively. I’m left scratching my head.
The Defence – The Blue Room, 19 Feb 2015
Out of Sydney comes something completely refreshing, naughty and hilarious called The Defence, written by Chris Dunstan (with Catherine McNamara and Matt Abotomey) based on the novel The Defence of a Fool by August Strindberg. This autobiographical novel concerns his marriage to Siri von Essen, and excerpts from the text have been used as part of the script in The Defence. Performer and co-writer Catherine McNamara takes on the role of Strindberg, while Brett Johnson takes on the role of Siri. These two perform a sort-of avant-garde act but are soon interrupted by Douglas Niebling, which then clues the audience in that we are watching a play within a play. The three proceed to “rehearse” and deconstruct not only Strindberg’s gender issues, but their own. This piece about the so-called “Father of Naturalism” straddles a bizarre line between naturalism and farce. The proceedings are absurd in many ways; Niebling’s character asks McNamara’s character to do some bizarre things in the name of Art, really pushing the limits of taste and increasingly trying her patience. Niebling is relentlessly demanding, but somehow comes up with jargon-filled explanations for his directions. His character is comically razor-sharp, and his passive-aggressiveness is simultaneously believable and exaggerated. Therein lies the paradox of this absurd piece: these guys make this weird world seem totally plausible. There is considerable nudity, simulated sex and violence, and there is more than one twist, so it’s one roller coaster of a ride.
A Circle of Buzzards – PICA, 19 Feb 2015
From the lyrical mind of Melbourne-based WA playwright Nathaniel Moncrieff comes this new work directed by Joe Lui featuring Austin Castiglione, Ella Hetherington and Jeremy Mitchell. Two strangers meet in a bar in Belmez, Spain, and they’ve got one thing in common: they’re Australian. One, Gerry (Castiglione), has been a fixture in this bar for some time; he’s there on a permanent vacation. The other (Mitchell) just blustered into town on holiday, and wants to buy Gerry drink after drink. Gerry resists, not wanting to engage in conversation with this overbearing man, not wanting things to get too personal. He’s evading a past, and would very much like to keep it all secret. The man is insistent and persuasive, and eventually manages to get Gerry not only to stay, but to reveal more than he’d like. But his revelations are no surprise to the man, nor to his wife (Hetherington) that eventually blows in out of a sudden thunderstorm. Together, the man and the wife elicit a confession from Gerry, and of course, the lesson is learned that we can never truly escape the past.
Thematically, there’s nothing particularly astounding about this concept, but what is engaging about the piece is the language and the imagery it evokes, and the way that Gerry is eventually pushed to the brink. He puts up a halfhearted fight at first, but he’s a weak man with a thin skin, and no match for his overly blokey adversary. And then when the wife arrives, he becomes utterly defenseless and instead waits, bewildered, for her to twist in the knife he’s already set upon himself. The man played by Mitchell is too talkative, and quite frankly, Mitchell’s too fidgety performance doesn’t quite match the subtlety of Castiglione and Hetherington. Hetherington smoulders, embodying both nurturer and executioner, and Castiglione does well despite a couple of over-the-top reactions. We get a sense of some morals at work, and a kind of socio-enviro-political cautionary tale about greed, which I think could have been toned down slightly without losing its moral ground. The menacing imagery of the buzzards circling in the desert is evocative in its own right, and might be as much allegory as we need to see what Moncrieff is getting at. However, there is merit in his attempt to turn the mirror on the new wealthy west and its tendency towards greed and self-interest.