“Shit on fire” is the favoured catchphrase of Semyon Semyonovich, the self-centred suicide in Moira Buffini’s DYING FOR IT, but on opening night it was a case of hair on fire as lead actress Jodine Muir’s follicles came far too close to a naked candle flame.
Fortunately the performer realised her brush with imminent self immolation, extinguished the singe and carried on in character portraying perfect professional aplomb. The lady was not for burning.
With something wick it this way calmed, she and the rest of the cast had to wrestle with an actor unfriendly set, unnecessarily raked and seemingly constructed to decapitate rather than facilitate.
Such is its aesthetically pleasing but impractical design that the set cripples the ability of this production to play as flat out farce because physical pace and maneuverability are hamstrung. Certainly it depicts the decrepit crampedness of the living quarters but to the detriment of farcical flow.
Director Peter Talmacs and his cast nevertheless salvage the satirical aspect of the piece which takes clear aim at Soviet politics, the Orthodox Church and male chauvinism.
Freely adapted from Nikolai Erdman’s 1928 play, THE SUICIDE, which was summarily banned by Stalin and subsequently languished in theatrical Siberia, it’s the tale of a despondent citizen wallowing in the self pity of unemployment. So much for full employment under Communism.
One suspects that Semyon has issues motivating his scrawny, lazy arse, evident in the fact that he treats his adoring wife, Masha, as a servant, even though she is the chief cook, bottle washer and breadwinner. His relationship with his mother in law, Serafima, isn’t too flash either, as she commands the apartment room and confines the conjugal bed to the tenement landing.
Fueled by the absurd idea that learning the tuba will rejuvenate his job prospects, his brass by brass business is blown when the instrument’s instruction manual proposes he purchase a grand piano.
Dreams of tuba tubs of cash dashed, he hatches a tumorous plot to top himself, an act that priests, postmen, and politburo seek to capitalise on.
Johann Walraven and Jodine Muir acquit themselves admirably as the two leads, Muir especially good as the haggard and harried Masha who never stoops to harridan.
Seasoned performers Jeannie Gee and Alan Faulkner as Serafima and Father Yelpidy respectively are respectably solid in their characterisations and slick comic phrasing, but elsewhere, suiting the action to the word needs some tailoring. This may come as the performers grow more accustomed to the pitch and pitfalls of their play ground. Dead set.
Moira Buffini’s DYING FOR IT opened at the New on Thursday November 21 and plays until Saturday December 21.