Taking Sides

A couple of years ago Marian Street theatre (sadly no longer) put on a powerful production of British playwright Ronald Harwood’s ‘Taking Sides’. Paddington’s Chauvel cinema has been running a successful season of Istvan Szabo’s film version that cuts even deeper.
Szabo, most famous for the Academy Award winning ‘Mephisto’, has always been fierce and uncompromising. No wonder, he chose Harwood’s play!
In the Allies post Second World War attempt to bring guilty Germans to justice, American Major Steve Arnold (Harvey Keital) is given the commission of investigating whether the brilliant German conductor Dr Wilhelm Furtwangler (Stellan Skarsgaard) has a case to answer for. How far did his allegiances with the Nazi Party go?!
In a small office high up in what was the old Opera House, Major Arnold, along with associates, Lieutenant David Wills and secretary Emma, is desperate to disrobe the Emperor, Dr Furtwangler. Furtwangler was a leading figure during the Nazis period. He was one of the Nazi pin-up boys, their leading conductor.
As I sat through ‘Taking Sides’ it struck me how angry Harwood’s story was. Through the narrative it is established that Furtwangler did have a lot to answer for. More than anything it was his superior attitude that Major Arnold rages about. Like many artists before and after him, Dr Furtwangler had the attitude that he was a class above the rest of humanity.
Like a burst of lightning, Arnold strikes at the conductor that the burden of guilt for the massacres that took place in the camps rests on his shoulders as much as anyone else’s. We are all responsible for each other.
In the leading role, Harvey Keital gave one of his strongest performances, in a role that was clearly close to his heart.

Sweet Home Alabama

Some life journeys bring us back to the point where we started. Andy Tennant’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ charts the journey of Melanie Smooter/Carmichael (Reece Witherspoon). After leading a rough and ready start to life Melanie chooses to escape the clutches of her home town Alabama along with the clutches of an unhappy marriage to Jake (Luke Perry) to make a new life for herself in New York.
She becomes a successful fashion designer in New York and takes the eye of Andrew Hennings (Patrick Dempsey), the son of New York Mayor Kate Hennings (Candice Bergen). Andrew wants to marry her however she has to entangle herself from her marriage to Jake who doesn’t want to give her a divorce. Necessity makes her go back back home to Alabama in an attempt to find some resolution. Her journey back home brings up a whole Pandora’s box of issues to deal with.

‘Sweet Home Alabama’ is a charming and enjoyable with many fine qualities. The story is a heart warmer, with romance at its heart. Who will Melanie choose, the gentle giant, high flyer from New York or will she return to her grumpy old man in Alabama?! I loved the quirky Southern characters. Memorable was Fred Ward as Melanie’s eccentric father, Earl. The leads were strong, Reese Witherspoon’s sweet look and Luke Perry’s redneck roughness. Patrick Dempsey was a stand-out as Andrew Hennings, with a graceful performance reminiscent of the best of Rupert Everett.
A fine film. Well, one would expect good things from a movie that takes its title from one of the best songs written by rock legend Neil Young!

Real Women Have Curves

For young Mexican woman Ana living in Los Angeles in ‘Real Women have Curves’ her battle is to make her own life for herself. A spirited young woman she is about to graduate from High School and with her pass she wants to leave home and go to college.
Her dilemma is whether she can free herself from her close knit family ties. She is close to her grandmother. Her elder sister, Estelle, needs her to help her in her garment making factory. Her mother Carmen wants her to get married and have children. Her only supporter is her father Raul however in a very female dominated family is his voice doesn’t get much airing.
Directed by Patricia Cardosa and starring America Ferrara as Ana, ‘Real Women have Curves’ was an uplifting, well observed, feminist film.

Punch Drunk Love

‘Punch Drunk Love’…how to describe it?! This was quirky. The storyline was easily relatable.
A young man, Barry Egan, can’t get his romantic life together. One of the first scenes sees him desperately chatting on a phone sex line which leads him into all sorts of strife.
The main obstacles are his suffocating family that includes seven controlling sisters, and the anger that often goes out of control because he can’t get out of his situation.
His life changes when an attractive, eccentric woman, a friend of one of his sisters, befriends him.
‘Punch Drunk Love’ worked well with its quirkiness, good performances, unusual camera angles and abrasive directorial touch. In its way it was a classic narrative, depicting a troubled man rise above his circumstances, and his new woman hanging in there with him.

Phone Booth

‘Phone Booth’ begins with sleazy New York Public Relations guy, Stu Shephard (Colin Farrell) starting his day weaving through the streets of New York on his way to work.
Before getting to work he stops at his favourite phone booth to ring up his mistress, Pamela (Katie Holmes). After he hangs up on her, the public phone rings and Stu answers it. It’s a bad move for it is a disturbing phone call. The caller tells him that he is watching him from one of the skyscraper office windows and is aiming his rifle at him. If he doesn’t do what is asked of him the caller says he will kill him in cold blood.

My take is that I wasn’t a fan of ‘The Phone Booth’. I found its theme of the avenging moral crusader (the assassin) exposing the moral shyster, Stu, a well worn and tired one.
Director Schumacher’s attempt at cosmic discourse didn’t impress. The shots of a satellite in the sky honing down on a phone booth in New York was unreal.
Performances were mixed. A feature was the presence of Forest Whittaker as Captain Ed Ramey the NYPD’s police captain assigned to capture the sniper. He has such a presence of moral fortitude and courage that is always watchable!

Far from Heaven

Todd Haynes’s ‘Far from Heaven’ is a classic piece of cinema, made with almost perfect detail.
It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate title. At first, Cathy’s life resembles heaven. She is a beautiful woman living a upper middle class lifestyle, with the best of her marriages. By the endof the film. after she discovers her husband’s infidelity, and her own feelings for the Afro-American house gardener, Cathy’s life has truly moved far from heaven.

In the true style of drama cum tragedy Cathy slides further and further into a corner. In the fifties a woman like Cathy had few choices. What gives ‘Far from Heaven’ its poignancy is the grace and stoicism with which Cathy bears her much ‘leaner’ life.

Julianne Moore is achingly beautiful as a woman trying to swim against the tide building up against her. Dennis Quaid as her self centred, tormented husband gives a haunting portrayal. Dennis Haysbert as gardener Raymond is a character full of gentle strength.

Todd Haynes combines the main production elements well to produce the classic dramatic feel. Ed Lachman’s vivid cinematography, the lush orchestral music, and the performances are finely tuned.

CHICAGO

CHICAGO

Rob Marshall’s new film of the classic musical ‘Chicago’ is deservedly set to pick up a large swag of Oscars at this year’s awards.

Marshall has made a razor sharp, feisty film faithful to its two wild women, murderesses Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), who pursue fame at any cost in the wild and crazy Chicago of the 1920’s. Roxie manages to survive a murder charge by having the chicest barrister in town, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), appear for her in her trial.

Everything pumps in this ‘Chicago’. The cast deliver the songs with gusto. The opportunism and decadence of 20’s Chicago is there in every frame. Zellweger’s scene when, after being let off the hook in her trial, she exits the court expecting the paparazzi, only to be inconsolable, when she finds that some other broad has just committed a murder and stolen her front page story, encapsulates it all.

The finest quality in Marshall’s ‘Chicago’ is the way its themes are so well brought out. The scenes where Gere’s courtroom antics are symbolically interspersed with him violently tap dancing across a dance floor are stunning.

Laurel Canyon

The American film ‘Laurel Canyon’ was an absorbing film. It asked of its main characters a question that I guess is put to all of us during our lives. How do we find that delicate balance between the need for freedom and responsibility?!.

This theme is brought out in a troubled mother and son relationship. Jane is a charismatic, flamboyant record producer who had her son Alex at a very early age. Jane has always been some thing of a wild thing, and is more than a little wary when her straight laced son, Sam, and his even straighter fiancé Alex, come to live with her for a while.

Frances McDormand gave a memorable performance as the flower child mum. This was a journey of a self centred, hedonistic woman who has to take responsibility for some of her own slackness and lack of empathy.

Christian Bale gave a well measured performance as the son in what was a large journey. He plays his character as a bit adolescent and arrogant, who sees everything as black and white, and then grows to see things in a more mature light.

Kate Beckinsale had an interesting role as Sam’s fiance, Alex. At first Alex is totally resistant to her new ‘world’ however she soon gets drawn in by Jane and Ian’s charm, and goes through something of a personality transformation herself.

In supporting roles, Alessandra Nivola played Jane’s toy boy rock singer, and Natascha McEllhone as Sam’s Israeli colleague and admirer, played two very sensual, uninhibited, even morally unscrupulous people.

VERY ANNIE MARIE

Annie Mary is a young Welsh woman who has always ‘done it hard’…she lost her mother early…her father doesn’t love her and dominates her…and there doesn’t seem much of a future for her.
She tries hard but nothing comes easy for her…she always tries but has little idea what she is doing. She is always bumping into things and has a survivor’s mentality…there’s a classic scene where knowing that she is no good at making bread she goes to the local supermarket and purchases hundreds of loaves of it!
Annie Mary biggest hope for herself is that she can make something of her good singing voice. She won a singing contest as a teenager.

My take on ‘Very Annie Mary’ was that it was an interesting, quirky film that failed to reach great heights. Rachel Griffith’s well realized performances as Annie Mary, one of nature’s battlers, was the highlight.
The quirky start to the film where we see Annie’s eccentric father driving his baker’s van through the countryside and singing Pavarotti songs helped with loudspeakers wired on the roof, defined the films quirky nature.

9th January, 2005

Swimming Pool

One of the leading French directors, Francois Ozon (‘Under the Sands’, ‘8 Femmes’), has made another provocative film for his first English language film, ‘Swimming Pool’.
Charlotte Rampling, the star of ‘Under the Sands’ plays the main role of Sarah, a successful English writer who is in need of new inspiration. Her publisher John gives her the keys to his holiday house in the south of France to unwind and work on new material.
Sarah straight away falls in love with her new home and the creative juices begin to stir. However her world is turned around when John’s uninhibited daughter, Julie, drops in to stay. There is a huge personality clash between the two women, Sarah is conservative and steely whilst Julia is reckless and promiscuous. Sarah is drawn to Julia’s strange ways, and soon finds her the subject for her new work.

There were many things to latch on to enjoy ‘Swimming Pool’. The sparring and battle of wills between Sarah and Julie….the chess like puzzle into the psyche of Julie as the movie unravels the dark, neglected childhood that has led her to behave so erratically, and the burning intensity of Charlotte Rampling. This was a story of darkness and redemption.

SEABISCUIT- Reviewer David Kary

There were rich pickings in the American film ‘Seabiscuit’. One can only wonder why it received an M rating, because it fitted well into the family movie genre. Well, after all, the film was produced by the Disney company, Dreamworks.

‘Seabiscuit’ was the story of the career of champion horse ‘Seabiscuit’ and the group of the people responsible for its success.
In essence it was a romantic film, made in the style of old fashioned Hollywood.

Through the film there were classic narrative structure happening to keep things flowing.

The wealthy old fashioned owners who takes a punt on a colt house.. The cute, old fashioned couple that have bought it…The colt ‘underdog’ horse that turns into a champion, with the amazing radar honed in on the finishing line…Inevitably, the champion horse comes up against another champion horse owned by an unsympathetic millionaire owner….The young wholesome jockey who develops a great rapport with the horse is turned around by the brilliant horse…the old time worldy wise trainer who knows every horse trick in the business.

The direction, and performances led by Tobey Maguire were in keeping with the style of this film.

7 January, 2005

Intolerable Cruelty

The launching pad for ‘Intolerable Cruelty’ was the cynicism of modern Western society, particularly in regards to marriage. This was a duel between two strong sparring partners, Catherine and George.

Catherine is a gold digging woman, forever chasing guys to marry her and then rip them off.
George is a quintessential family lawyer making his wealth out of marital misery and collapse.
The couple meet when George is the defence lawyer encountering Catherine’s latest relationship demise.

The film plays out with the sparring getting more and more intense till there is something of a knock out then a final reprieve.

My verdict, “intolerable Cruelty’ was a clever, entertaining film. It is a shame that it depicts a society with a sophisticated veneer but with such a hollow core.

CALENDER GIRLS- Reviewer David Kary

The cast of CALENDER GIRLS

First the British made ‘The Full Monty’ and now there’s ‘Calendar Girls’. Whilst ‘The Full Monty’ was a work of fiction, ‘Calendar Girls’ was based on real life. A group of middle-aged Yorkshire women, part of a local women’s institute, got together to pose naked for the institute’s annual calendar. The motive was politically correct; one of the women had lost her husband to leukemia. The nude calendar was organized to raise money for leukemia research.

This was, in all respects, a charming film. Helen Mirren as Chris had the plum role of the group’s stirrer. Together with her partner in crime, Julie Walters playing Annie, they were determined to stir up the stuffiness and small mindedness of the institute. The institute had wanted to do a calendar of landscape photos, the two women decided a nude calendar was a more exciting option.

The film had many good touches. The picture of the husband’s at the local pub drinking themselves to oblivion whilst their wives were out having adventures…the quintessential British moment when a husband and wife are having a cup of tea with the husband reading the newspaper. The husband glibly comments that there’s an article about the group posing naked for a calendar as if it had meant nothing at all, and that his wife wasn’t one of the participants.

AUTO FOCUS- Reviewer David Kary

The obsessive Bob Crane

Paul Schrader’s ‘Auto Focus’ was a modern American tragedy. His film is a hard hitting celebrity drama involving the life and times of the impish, charismatic Bob Crane who rode on the back of his success as Hogan in the hit CBS television series ‘Hogan’s Heroes’.

From a comfortable middle class life with a loving wife and kids Crane’s life descended into sex and voyeurism addictions, from which he could never release himself.

Remember Sergeant Schultz’s catch-cry ‘I see nothing, I know nothing’. Schrader’s film confronts us with a lot about Crane that we probably would prefer to turn a blind eye to. Crane’s obsession with videoing all of his many sexual exploits became ever more grotesque.

Greg Kinnear as Crane and William Dafoe as his ‘shadow’ friend, John Carpenter, gave great performances.

From a happy go lucky family man ‘Auto Focus’ leaves us with a picture of a very sad, confused, middle-aged man. Haunting. Sad.

(c) David Kary

THE SHAPE OF THINGS

‘The Shape of Things’ at the Sydney Theatre Company was in any terms exhilarating theatre.

Neil LaBute’s play was a brilliant piece of writing, strong in all areas. This was a play about careless love and its destructive consequences. Up and coming artist Evelyn was the perpetrator of the unhealthy love.

Jeremy Sims’s production served LaBute’s well. The performances were striking. Leanna Walsmann’s portrayal of the merciless, persecutory Evelyn was marked with a strong stage presence. For the role Walsmann came up with a haughty speaking voice that vividly expressed her character.
As Evelyn’s unfortunate victim Adam, Brendan Cowell gave a performance that cut close to the bone. His final scenes were aching! Cowell’s range was impressive, playing a character who was klutzy, a bit of a loser, out of touch with the world and yet with a big heart.

In supporting roles were played by Alyssa McLelland and Nick Flint as Adam’s friends, Jenny and Phillip. McLelland gave a touching performance, especially in a bittersweet scene with Cowell. Nick Flint was fine in the role of the cynical, straight talking Phillip.

Director Sims does much more than just let the words tell the story. Together with set designer Fiona Crombie a wonderful minimalist set design was created.As the characters changed their environments, they moved between miniature sets.

Aye Larkin’s (ex Skunk Hour) music score, with its Nick Cave feel, reinforced the play’s dark themes.

Damien Cooper’s scattered lighting design that featured flashing lights coming from underneath the sets, and some strobe lighting that flashed across the stage, complemented the play’s startling quality.

9 January, 2005

One Day Of The Year

The Sydney Theatre Company brought back Alan Seymour’s classic play ‘One Day Of The Year’ to the Wharf theatre.
Sydney Theatre Company Artistic Director Robyn Nevin helmed the production and brought together a strong cast for the production intent on proving the play which was first performed to much controversy in 1961 has lost none of its edge.
Everyone knows ‘The One Day Of The Year’ as that play about Anzac Day with a son calling his father on how he sees Anzac Day as just an excuse for a big piss-up. What makes Seymour’s play so good is that it is also about much more….
This is a play about Hughie just starting to come out of his familys’ shadow, and forge his own identity. He has never really questioned his parents’ authority before and struggles deeply with it.
If there is one emotion that typifies Hughie through the play it is angst! And this is the through-line of Nathaniel Dean’s performance.. Hughie’s choices are hard; should he be loyal to his parents, to his new girlfriend, follow his new cerebral, political approach or follow his heart. Indeed is he still a boy or a man?!
Some in Australia in the 1960’s would have viewed Australia as a classless society. Not Alan Seymour!
The working class Cook family just can’t handle Hughie’s new friend, Jan Castle. She’s a North Shore girl. What would she know about life in the Western Suburbs?! Whenever she’s in the house, the Cook’s are ill at ease.
The role of Jan Castle is a meaty role for an actress to play, and talented NIDA graduate Eloise Oxer takes up the challenge well. Oxer plays Jan as intense and cerebral and a touch insensitive and unconscious. In a revealing scene, she describes Mrs Cook as a bit working class before she realises the slip’ she has made.
In the 1960’s more kids were going to University hoping to give them more opportunities in life. Working class families like the Cook’s were wary of their kids going to university because they then found that they started to question everything.
Max Cullen’s infused his portrayal of Alf Cook with a kind of nobility. A hard living, gruff, bulldog of a man, he was still the father, that when push came to shove, insisted that Hughie continue at University, despite everything. He wanted his son to become more than a lift driver, which was his fate.
Kris McQaude’s role as Mrs Dot Cook was that of a peace broker in between making cups of teas. She was in that zone that all mothers dread, when sons grow up and feel its time to stand up to and square off with their Dads.
Ron Haddrick completed playing the cast, playing salt of the earth Wacka, a little oblivious to the family drama happening around him.

Love Child

The Stables theatre recently was privy to a special theatrical event with a mother and daughter performance of style featuring Belinda Giblin and her daughter Romy Bartz, fresh out of graduating from NIDA. They performed a season of Joanne Murray- Smith’s most well known play, ‘Love Child’, with Jennifer Hagen directing.

Murray-Smith’s play is a fierce one. Anna, an attractive, middle-aged professional woman consents to a meeting with a young woman, Billie, who claims to be her daughter who she gave up for adoption some twenty five years ago.

‘Love Child’ was an appropriate vehicle for the actresses to show their talents. The play gave mother and daughter the chance to let fly, and show their dramatic range in the intimate Stables space.
In the program notes director Hagan likened ‘Love Child’ to a boxing match with ‘two ill-matched contestants fighting it out-each determined to go the distance. There can be no decision either way until the bell sounds, signaling acceptance’.
It is a fitting metaphor. Romy’s Billie is the aggressor, trying to land as many blows. Belinda’s Anna is in the corner defending the blows, till she gets the opportunity to free herself.
Belinda plays Anna very cold to begin with, reminiscent of a mother like Mary Tyler Moore in ‘Ordinary People’. Her frostiness can’t last long under Billie’s continual barrage. Billie forces Anna to open up and take stock of her life and decisions.
Romy plays Billie with rage, empowered with the moral high ground, but then she has to take some backward steps.

Jennifer Hagan staged the contest well, helped by Tony Youlden’s lighting design, and Axel Bartz’s compact set.

King Lear

The Genesian Theatre Company made a good fist of The Bard’s greatest tragedy,‘King Lear’ in a recent production.

Under director and designer Gary Dooley it was quite a physical, intense production. The fight scenes, choreographed by Felicity Steel, were violent enough to have some of the young people in the audience gasping.

There was clearly a lot of effort put into the production with one of the most intricate set designs I’ve seen at the Genesians for a long time. The set included a pond and fountain. The lighting design by Eric Bicknell and Roger Gimblett added to the drama.

The performances were of a mixed quality with some stand-outs. It was a case of the men outdoing the women. Keith Potten gave a strong performances as Lear. Jason Murdoch was a confident, evil villain Edmund, Andrew Purches was a very animated, tall and gangly Fool. The finest performance came from Rohan Maloy in an energized, colourful performance in the double role of Edgar and Tom of Bedlam.

Inheritance

The Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Ínheritance’ has made it to Sydney, performing a season at the Sydney Opera House.
Raison uses the vehicle of a family reunion to create her drama. The Hamiltons and the Delaneys gather to celebrate the 80th birthday of long time matriarchs of the Malee district, twins Dibs Hamilton (Monica Maughan) and Girlie Delaney (Lois Ramsey). The children and grandchildren are returning to the family home, Annandale, which Dibs won ownership of many years ago through the toss of a coin. With Dibs’s husband Farley (Ronald Falk) on his last legs there’s competition amongst the two families as to how the property will be divided up if she decides to sell up.

With ‘Inheritance’ Raison has clearly set her sights on some targets which she polishes off efficiently. Raison hones in on the right wing elements in the country. There is no room to move for Nugget Hamilton, the Hamilton’s adopted Koori son, about whom rumors abound. On the other hand there’s plenty of room for right wing extremist Ashleigh Delaney to form her own successful political party. Geraldine Turner gives a charismatic, broadly comic performance as Delaney, a take-off of Pauline Hanson.
.

I don’t know whether Raison was in some way inspired by the classic play, ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’, but there was a certain insidious, even evil quality about the two matriarchs. The scene near the close where the twins gathered to decide how the sale of the property will be divvied up, sent chills up my spine

Howard Katz

‘Howard Katz’ is the second play by British playwright Patrick Marber that the Sydney Theatre Company has produced, following on the success of its production of the bitingly contemporary ‘Closer’. This Sydney Theatre Company production was directed by Michael Kantor.

Howard Katz is a world weary showbiz agent who represents the ‘flotsam and jetsam’ nobody wants, a confused Jewish person who is questioning his faith- and is extremely funny and rude.
Katz is hit for six by a mid life crisis. He leaves his family and is coerced into taking time off from his job. With his life spiralling into chaos, Howard ends up on a park bench contemplating suicide.

Billie Brown, best known in Sydney for his performance as Oscar Wilde in Belvoir Street’s ‘Judas Kiss’,played the lead, coming in at the eleventh hour after Gary McDonald bowed out. took over the role from Gary McDonald He delivered a strong performance,and was well supported by a strong cast including Vanessa Downing, Kirstie Hutton and Frank Whitten.

This was a bleak night in the theatre. It was tough watching this pugnacious man fall deeper and deeper into the great chasm.

Chicks will dig you

There was no agonizing for some deeper theme in the Silver Productions presentation of Toby Schmitz’s new play ‘Chicks will dig you’. This was just good fun entertainment for the younger set.

Schmitz’s main character Jasper is single and out to find some women. His best friend and smooth talking womanizer Sebastian puts him on to the latest pick-up guide, ‘The Hunt’ and its guru, the charismatic Chase.The play sees Jasper making his moves on a variety of women with the dominating Chase forever in his shadow, trying to coach and cajole him.

The production values were basic with a simple set design and some use of a video screen showing Chase espousing some of his philosophies.

The script was a springboard for some good acting roles. Josh Lawson impressed in the leading role of the unconfident, klutzy Jasper. Drayton Morley reveled in the role of the conceited, egotistical, dogmatic Chase. Ewen Leslie played Jasper’s smooth talking friend, Sebastian.
Four young actresses, Lauren Steenholdt, Natasha Beaumont, Larissa Rate and Natasha Beaumont, had the minor roles of playing the unfortunate objects of Jasper’s affections.

Cavalcaders

Billy Roche’s ‘The Cavalcaders’ looks at the lives and loves of four likely lads in contemporary Ireland.-
Terry (Patrick Dickson) Rory (John O’Hare), Ted (Sean O’Shea) and Josie (Danny Adcock) work in an old fashioned cobbler’s store. By day they mend shoes, by night they are the cavalcaders, stars of the local charity circuit.
Two local women, Breda (Jeanette Cronin), an ex of Terry’s and Nuala (Susan Prior), Terry’s current girlfriend, are regular visitors to the store.

‘The Cavalcaders’ was a deceptive piece of entertainment. For the first while I thought this was going to be a comfortable nights’ entertainment. Some Irish lads sitting around, sharing plenty of anecdotes, doing some folksy stuff, and even breaking into some song and dance. Good fireside entertainment.

Playwright Roche’s intentions were more than folksy. ‘The Cavalcaders’ also featured a tragic love story between Terry and Nuala. Terry came across as an emotionally crippled man. Hurt and betrayed in love when he was young Terry never lets any woman get close to him. With Patrick Dickson’s portrayal Terry is a character full of charm on the outside, but thorny once you get to know him.

Contrasted with Terry is Nuala, who wears her heart on her sleeve. A pretty, vivacious young woman she wants Terry or nothing. When Terry rejects her, she doesn’t have the emotional maturity to handle it. Susan Prior plays Nuala with her outer shell full of sensuality and bravado yet her inner core as thin as tissue paper.

Birthrights

David Williamson’s new play‘Birthrights’ played a season at the Playhouse at the Sydney Opera House, as part of the Ensemble’s subscription season.

Australia’s leading playwright. Williamson’s plays are always worth looking at. When he’s on fire there are few more incisive playwrights. Williamson always has a meaty issue to tackle. With ‘Birthrights’ Williamson takes on the issue of women’s fertility and its consequences. Young sophisticate Claudia makes a decision that will dramatically turn her life around. Claudia’s older sister Helen is devastated when she is told that she will never be able to have a baby. Her marriage to Mark is on the rocks.

Claudia decides to take action to help her older sister. She chooses surrogacy- and has her brother in laws child via artificial insemination and then immediately hands her daughter Kelly to her sister for adoption.

Claudia’s decision ends up biting her…when she and her partner Martin later find out that they can’t have a baby, and Kelly becomes the only child that she will ever have.

I have to say that I did not rate this play as one of Williamson’s best. The issues were certainly there. There are few more heart rending issues than a woman who has problems conceiving, together with the whole issue of adoption.

A Williamson quote for the play has good relevance:-‘The clash of intellect and our emotion, our sense of fairness and our capacity for bastadry, are at the heart of all drama. It’s what makes life difficult. It’s what makes us human’. In ‘Birthrights, Claudia’s battle in the play turns out to be between wanting her own needs met, and maintaining her own sense of fairness.

My problem with ‘Birthrights’ is that it never really connected on a gut level. I never really went under its spell!

The Ensemble production directed by Sandra Bates was faithful enough. Michelle Doake as Claudia as always bestrode the stage effortlessly and confidently. Katherine Jones was strong as Helen’s screwed up daughter Kelly. Andrew Doyle was effective as Helen’s wealthy, conservative, controlling husband, Mark.

Wonderland

What a depressing film! ‘Wonderland’, directed by James Cox, is about the life and times of American porn legend, John ‘The Wad’ Holmes.
The film looks at his ubiquitous life post his blue movie period when he was purported to have sex with some 20,000 women.

I didn’t find ‘Wonderland’ engaging. Holmes was basically a bland character who fell into a nasty crowd and reveled in its seedy world.
I guess Holmes is owed his own bio-pic as a result of his involvement in the gruesome murders of four people in Wonderland Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. His involvement in the murders gave him even more notoriety. A homicide detective investigating the crime at the time described the murder spree as on the same gruesome scale as the Manson/Tate murders of the 1960’s.

‘Wonderland’ was shot in a quasi documentary style. It unearths that, as a result of volcanic rage Holmes and another crime figure Eddie, were responsible for the murders.
In a reflection of the Los Angeles criminal justice scene, both the main protagonists were acquitted of the murder charges at their trial. Whereas Eddie is still alive and well, Holmes has since passed away from related AIDS illness.
The performances were satisfying including Val Klimer as Holmes and Lisa Kudrow as his long suffering girlfriend.
I found ‘Wonderland, for its dark biographical genre, unremarkable cinema. Maybe this had something to do with John Holmes being a pretty unremarkable person apart from his amazing tool!

Spanish Apartment

If you want to see a film that makes you feel young again, then the French film The Spanish Apartment should do the trick.
It was so easy to relate to the personality and adventures of young French student Xavier who decides that it’s time for a change. He leaves his family, and his long time and aggrieved girlfriend behind, and heads to Barcelona for a year.
After his mother’s arrangement in Barcelona, fails to materialize, Xavier takes up a flat-share, sharing an apartment with people from six different countries.

What an eventful year ensues. Xavier has an affair with a married woman, bored by her recent marriage to a career obsessed man. He quickly adjusts to the over stimulation in his home life, and loves his tiny, poster filled bedroom.
Xavier even learns some new skills such as fending off the grumpy landlord, when he makes an unexpected visit.
On happier occasions, together with his flatmates, he paints the town red.
The year abroad also has its growing up pains. His girlfriend visits him, and the feelings between them are no longer the same. When he finally does go home, it will be something he will have to finally resolve.

There was a hint towards the films’ end that this film was autobiographical in nature. If so, writer/director Cedric Klapisch has created a warm and immensely entertaining memoir to his younger years.
With such a large cast the performances were a little varied. Romain Duris was an elegant and confident lead, the pick of his flatmates was a fetching performance by Kelly Reilly as the lone Englishwoman, Wendy, the default head of the household.
The Spanish Apartment has some truly funny scenes that will fondly stay in the memory.

Summing up, this was an immensely likable film, and one that does bring back that exciting period in life, when one breaks out on one’s for the first time, and gets to sow some of those wild oats.

Reviews of Screen, Stage, Performing Arts, Literary Arts, Visual Arts, Cinema + Theatre