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.

Something’s Got to Give

It’s pretty easy to work out what the filmmakers’ mission statement would have been for the new film ‘Something’s Gotta Give’. Make a damn good romantic comedy! I guess it helps when you’ve got two of the finest actors in the business, Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, to play the leading roles.
The scenario…how does one get two middle-aged people, who have skirted romance, find it.?
Diane Keaton plays Erica a middle aged and middle class, responsible and respectable playwright. She is busy with her career, her friends, and her grown up daughter. She doesn’t even turn her mind to romance.
Jack Nicholson plays Harry, a middle aged and well to do playboy. His life is governed by a paramount principle that he doesn’t date women who are over thirty years old. That is, he doesn’t want to get involved.
They meet when Diane’s daughter brings Jack home for a dirty weekend wrongly expecting mum not to be home. Jack stays past the weekend and when the daughter has to go away for a short time a chemistry develops between them.
Writer/director Nancy Meyers comes up with a big box of tricks before
Jack and Diane get together and live happily ever after.
She has Diane dreamily walk around naked in her bedroom when Jack embarrassingly walks in on her.
In a clever set-up to their romance she has Diane give Jack mouth to mouth after he collapses with a cardiac arrest in her daughters bedroom when they were about to get up to some hanky panky.
The inevitable time comes when the pressure becomes too much for Jack and he exits ‘stage left’. A crunch scene happens when Diane happens to be at the same restaurant as Jack and sees him dining with a young babe and storms off crying.
In Nancy’s bag of tricks there’s a brilliant set up and pay off. Early on Jack teases Diane about her turtleneck tops, inferring that they reveal her as an inhibited, repressed character.
Jack and Diane end up in the cot. Diane hasn’t had it for a while, and she gets all hot and bothered. In a well played out erotic scene, Diane asks Jack to get a pair of scissors and he cuts into Diane’s top right through the middle.
‘Something’s Gotta Give’ is not the kind of film that operates on any deep level. It is a well crafted tale of romance. The closest it gets to some deeper message is when Jack, after decades of weaving around any chance of his heart getting involved, has to go through some dramatic changes. Whenever things aren’t going too well with Diane he develops heart pains and gets rushed to hospital. In the end he gets the message from the hospital medic that nothing is actually wrong with his heart, it’s just his heart feeling things again!
And the verdict on ‘Something’s Gotta Give’… The filmmakers worked towards and achieved their mission statement. The film wasn’t great, memorable cinema, however it was good, old fashioned entertainment.

Love Actually

Richard Curtis’s film Love Actually, his previous films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral have been as scriptwriter, is a fine film.

Curtis stamps his mark on his film right from the beginning. He narrates the start of the film by sharing the sentiment that whenever he feels down he takes himself to Heathrow airport, and stands by the arrival gate. As he watches the people arriving, and the embraces, the humanity of these scenes inspire him to keep on going. (Perhaps we all need to have these airport moments!).

During Love Actually cupid’s arrow strikes the hearts of people from very different walks of society and circumstances…The British Prime Minister, with his ‘posse’ stringing along with him, knocks door to door in a working class suburb to track down the woman he loves.

An unlikely romance develops between two cynical blue movie stars who are busy putting together their latest bland movie.

A newspaper editor has a midlife crisis choosing between his long time wife and his spunky young secretary who has her eye on him.

There’s no denying that Love Actually is a schmaltzy kind of film but thankfully it is not all Hollywood. Not every storyline has a happy ending! Love doesn’t always win the day, and the effected characters do take it on the chin!

‘Love Actually’ was a great vehicle for its fine cast of actors. The cast were given so many wonderful scenes to flex their talents. And they do so with great style. Just watching the cast make their moves was much of the pleasure. And what a talented cast including; Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Laura Linney. Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant and Rowan Atkinson.

My verdict…’Love Actually’ was one of those films that gets you in the heart like a delicate song.

Goodbye, Lenin

The drive to protect a loved one from a difficult reality is a basic and very human one.
Writer/director Wolfgang Becker has used this basic impulse as the springboard to create his quirky, uninhibited and entertaining film, ‘Goodbye, Lenin’.

In ‘Goodbye, Lenin’ a young East Berliner Alex takes on the protector’s role. His mum had a heart attack and has woken up after being in a coma for nine months. Whilst his mother, Christiane, has been asleep dramatic changes have taken place in the city. The Berlin Wall has collapsed and communism has fallen. Alex does not believe that his mother, an ardent communist, would be able to cope with the news.

What does Alex do?! He puts his mother up in a room in his house, and then does everything in his power to keep the world the same as she knew it.

Director Becker squeezes every plot angle out of this scenario. Alex does everything to hold up the illusion. He buys foods that have been imported and then wraps them in old communist produced labels. Alex arranges some of his mother’s old friends to visit and recite old songs. A mate of his produces fabricated socialist news bulletins for his mother to watch on television.

‘Goodbye, Lenin’ works on many different thematic levels. Here are just a few descriptions..…A rich comedy in the bizarre solutions Alex comes up with…A touching love story between a mother and his devoted son….One man’s desperate attempt to salvage the past.

This was a very political film. ‘Goodbye, Lenin’ showed East Germans having great difficulty coping with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and unappreciative of the freedom and opportunities that had become available. After all, Alex did spin the whooper to his mother that the changes his mother was seeing were the result of the German Democratic Republic offering political asylum to those fed up with capitalism. Quite a reversal!

Well directed by Wolfgang Becker and with good performances by the cast headed by Alexander Kerner as Daniel Bruhl, Goodbye, Lenin was a treat!

CAPTURING THE FRIEDMAN’S

The American documentary ‘Çapturing the Friedman’s’ was, in its own way, a frightening experience. How to describe it?! It’s a documentary that hones in on a middle-upper class family in Long Island, New York, and provides a startling portrait.

A buzz phrase in pop psychology is the notion of dysfunctional families. Director Andrew Janecki’s portrait of the Friedman family is of extreme dysfunction.The Friedman family home is raided by the police, and father, respected and award winning school teacher Arnold Friedman and youngest son, Jess, are handcuffed and led into custody, with television cameras filming the event. Arnold and Jess Friedman are charged with hundreds of pedophile offences.

Janecki’s film captures the Friedman family as the whole familys world unravels. There is nothing remotely comfortable about this documentary. It involves more than cerebrally and detachedly viewing newsreel footage and interviews with different people involved.

The Friedman family, and especially patriarch Arnold, loved making home movies. The family gave Janecki access to all their videos. The stunning thing is that the family continued to keep the camera rolling at the time of the arrest, and for many years after. The audience sees the family from the inside out. It makes the documentary a lot rawer.

I saw ‘Capturing the Friedman’s a few weeks ago, and I can’t shake it. There are moments and images that stick! Go see, and you’ll know what I mean.
Be haunted. I was, above all, by the face of Arnold Friedman. He looked like such a typical, ordinary man. He has such an ordinary look, and yet he is responsible for so much suffering.

A HEART ELSEWHERE

The new Italian film A Heart Elsewhere was a fine, delicate film, written and directed by Pupi Avati.

Avati has charted a poignant journey for his main character, Nello Balocchi. Nello’s wealthy family is desperate to see him hitched. He is shy and plain looking and his ambitious father want to see him wed and hopefully produce a heir for the family’s successful business, a Papal tailor’s shop in Rome. Nello is sent away from the family’s nest to take up a teaching post in Bologna in the hope that he’ll find someone.

It was easy to get inside Nello’s journey. There were so many landmarks …His battle with his madly possessive and condescending family, his terrible shyness and physical awkwardness, his first, intense, deeply fraught love affair with a beautiful, young blind woman, Angela.

The performances were finely tuned. Neri Marcore portrayed Nello as a soft voiced, intellectual, deeply sympathetic young man. Spanish model Vanessa Incontrada played Angela, the object of his affections. Incontrada’s performance was well realised, portraying as a willful, self centred, vain young woman who also had to contend with a dominating parent.

Avati’s film rounds off elegantly in a heart felt story that has been told with fine craft.

(c) David Kary

Bookkeeper

Sidetracks’s Don Mamouney and Carlos Gomez’s revived their production of ‘The Bookkeeper’ for this year’s Carnivale. ‘The Bookkeeper’is a dramatization of the life and times of enigmatic 20th Century writer Portugese writer Fernando Pessoa.
When Pessoa died in 1935 he had left a trunk containing some 25,426 items,.a huge collection of poems, fragments, plays and journals, variously typed or scrawled in three languages in notebooks, scraps of paper, serviettes, the back of envelopes and even used envelopes.
Pessoa led a classic double life. In the daytime he led a dull, conservative life as a bookkeeper in a busy office, at night in his flat he let his imagination run wild at his writing desk.

‘The Bookkeeper’ was directed with plenty of vigour by Carlos Gomes. The set was simple with the main part of the set comprising the office, and then a little to the right, his little flat.
The cast gave good, energetic performances. Arky Michael played the energized Pessoa, and the rest of the cast, Adam Hatzimanolis, Georgina Naidu and Silvia Ofria, were his work colleagues who played a large part in his dreams.

‘SKYLIGHT’ AT THE NEW

Part of the New Theatre’s New Directions program, Alex Broun’s production of David Hare’s ‘Skylight’ was a memorable night at the theatre.

Through the eyes of the main character Kyra we are taken into the dark but fascinating world of a very complex relationship.

Kyra is busy getting on with her mundane but bearable suburban life when she is visited by her former lover, Tom, along with his grown-up son, Edward. We find out that Kyra was a housemaid at Tom’s marital home when Tom and her fell in love and Tom had a passionate affair behind his wife’s back. When his wife finally finds out, she breaks up their marriage.

Kyra and Tom have very different natures. Kyra’s story is that she is working class and has a very giving story. Tom’s story us that he is very upper class and arrogant.

Alex Broun’s direction was exemplary, and the cast, Jacinta John, Beejan Olfat, and Laurence Coy, performed well.

(c) David Kary

8th January, 2005

Club

David Williamson’s ‘The Club’, first performed in 1977, has still got what it takes and is very entertaining. The Sydney Theatre Company’s revival of ‘The Club’, directed by Bruce Myles, was an accomplished and highly successful one.

The production was marked by some strong performances. John Wood reprised his previous performance as Jock, the former star player with a mountainous ego and lack of sensitivity.
Paul Goddard played the Club’s shrewd administrator. Steve Bisley, a regular performer on the Sydney theatre scene, was superb as the salt of earth coach, devoted to his players, and being seriously undermined by management. Jeremy Sims was the cantankerous Club President warring with Laurie. Conrad Coleby had the plum role of crash new recruit Geoff who was a regular under-performer. The role reminded one of the bratty tennis player in Nick Enrights ‘Daylight Saving’.

Together, Conrad Coleby and John Wood, share the best scene in ‘The Club’ when Geoff tries to convince Jock that he is the ultimate deviant.

Perhaps the biggest star of ‘The Club’ was Laurence Eastwood’s awesome set design. It drew immediate gasps from the audience. It contained the two main sets of Williamson’s play, the club’s executive room, and the club’s home ground, replete with spectator seating.

Great Divide

Tony Laumberg’s new play ‘The Great Divide’ was good, light entertainment.

The great divide was between a WASP couple and a Greek couple fighting over their own territories in St Ives. As soon as the Greek couple move in to the neighbourhood a merciless antagonism takes place. The Greek couple, Archimedes and Athena want to pull down the neighbourhood fence and put up a huge brick wall.

The plays’ strengths lay in the playwright’s considerable wit, and well defined performances. The actors all had their characters down pat…..Mark McCann as the uptight North Shore-ite solicitor WASP. Tricia Youlden impressed as his very drunk, awesomely flirtatious wife, Margaret, Manny Katz was good as the obsessive State Rail worker, Archimedes Christi, obsessed with timetable information, and Tula Tzoras she his devoted, assertive wife Athena. Peter Demlakian rounded out the cast as the set upon Greeh magistrate, Mr Poulos.

The sound design was good with suitable Greek instrumental music. Tony Youlden’s set design was basic but did the trick. Richard Cotter’s direction kept the action moving rapidly.

I will remember ‘The Great Divide’ for the playwrights’ quirky way of incorporating a game of Twister to finally resolve the neighbourhood dispute.

Nocturne

The B Sharp production of American playwright Adam Rapp’s ‘Nocturne’ has been one of my theatrical highlights of the year.
The play features a scenario that theatre regularly transverses. It captures a soul journeying back from the edge of darkness to some sort of stasis.
In ‘Nocturne’ the soul is a young man who experiences a terrible tragedy. Inebriated after a drunken University party he makes it all the way home in his car only to run over his sister in the driveway of his family home.
Rapp presents the tortured journey as a one hander with young Perth performer Gibson Nolte playing the role.
The drama starts with the young man, with his back to the audience, writing on the back theatre wall, ‘on such and such a day I ran over and killed my sister’. This confronting beginning sets the tone for night.
Production elements were strong with good lighting effects and appropriate sound design. Nolte’s performance is strong, intimate and sustained
‘Nocturne’ had some strong moments. The guy has set himself up in a big city flat, determined to live an independent life.
The largest feature of his apartment is the huge number of books, intellectual in nature, that he has accumulated. His passion in life is reading.
His life seems to pick up when he befriends a woman at a café, and it seems that he will have some romance in his life again. He beds the lady down and finds he is impotent. He can’t bear to see her again.
He comes home, and in one of the play’s most explosive moments he kicks all the books onto the floor from their makeshift shelves. One can see what he is feeling, what do books matter, what does anything matter, when life is so painful?!
There’s another moment, kind of encapsulating this man’s life, when he talks about how he can’t play the piano anymore. He had ambitions of being a concert pianist and would train for many hours. Now he can’t touch the piano. It’s too sorrowful. The sounds emanating from the piano go right through him.
Like a piano, ‘Nocturne’ is the kind of play that cuts through one’s defences, and provides a powerful dramatic experience.

Kimberly Akimbo

The new play at the Ensemble Theatre was the American play ‘Kimberly Akimbo’ by Los Angeles playwright David Lindsay-Abaire.
The play tells the story of sixteen year old Kimberly (Melissa Jaffer) who is a 16 year old teenager who faces two big battles. She suffers from a nasty disease where her body has aged severely and quickly, and is certain to cut years off her life. She also suffered from having to interact with a very dysfunctional family,
She has to cope with a heavily pregnant volatile mother, Pattie (Dina Panozza), a rarely sober father, Buddy (Rupert Cox), and a homeless scam-artist Aunt Debra (Anni Finsterer).
On top of this Kimberly has to bear the pangs of first love/crush with a school friend Jeff (Ben Mortley).

My take on ‘Kimberly Akimbo’…this was a screwball comedy with the emphasis being on its oddball, screwball characters.
My gut reaction at that crucial time when the lights went down, signaling the play’s finish, was that this play was a winner.
The play had a delicious recipe. It featured such a strong, touching journey for its main character as well as it generally being great fun.
Opening night went down a treat. This Australian premiere production was a strong one. Kate Gaul directed the production confidently. This was such a strong cast with everyone making their contribution.
Veteran actress Melissa Jaffer was excellent in the main role. She meets the challenge well, having to tap into being so emotionally young but with a body so aged.
Dino Panozzo was a stand-out as Kimberly’s outrageous mother. She is such a volatile, extroverted actress and this is a perfect role for her.
Rupert Cox gave a strong comic performance as her father, a caring father but one who says the most inappropriate things.
Anni Finsterer had a good energy as her crazy, frenetic Auntie. Ben Mortley was fine as her nerdy love interest, Jeff.

How did I rate Kimberly Akimbo compared to like minded plays? Highly. I loved its quirkiness and emotional honesty.

Copenhagen

This counts as the second time that I have seen the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Michael Frayn’s play ‘Copenhagen’, and it still rates as a knockout.

Frayn’s play hangs on a meeting that is purported to have taken place in Nazi Germany between two of the world’s most brilliant physicists, German physicist Werner Heisenberg and the Dutch, half Jewish physicist, Niels Bohr.

The significance of their discussions centered on them coming up with the final parts of their formula for the world’s first atomic bomb. In hindsight it was more than a little fortuitous for our civilization that the two scientists did not come up with the solution before the end of the Second World War.

The features of this play were:-the quality of Frayn’s writing; the dialogue was as sharp as a tack, the structure was exquisite. A quality of the writing was that Frayn did not take sides politically. There was as much sympathy and understanding of the German people’s plight as there was for the allies.

The production itself was first class. British director Michael Blakemore’s direction was strong. I enjoyed how well orchestrated the characters were. The performances were exceptional. Robert Menzies was the stand-out as the passionate, extroverted Heisenberg. John Gaden had the less flashy role of the reflective, introverted Bohr. Jane Harders complemented the two male performances with a subtle, deft performance as Bohr’s wife, Margrette. Margrette came across as a soft person with however a steely strength underneath.

Summing up, ‘Copenhagen’ was a memorable night in the theatre and it stands as one of the Sydney Theatre Company’s flagship productions in the same way as the late Richard Wherrett’s production of ‘The Crucible’ was.

Why Kids?

One of Australia’s finest actors, Henri Szeps, performed his latest his latest play, ‘Why Kids’, at the Ensemble theatre. Szeps is one of the Ensemble’s favorite sons, being one of its early graduates, under the tutorage of the late Hayes Gordon.
‘Why Kids’ was a play that Szeps had work-shopped through various venues around the state. It follows up his previous autobiographical one man play- ‘I’m not a Dentist’.
With ‘I’m not a Dentist’ Szeps focused on his career, in ‘Why Kids’ Szeps concentrates on his other preoccupation, family life.

The plays’ recipe is a simple one, Szeps mixes his numerous anecdotes with musical breaks, with Szeps taking over the microphone and singing to taped music.
The verdict…well..I had mixed feelings.
I love Szeps as a performer. He is a great raconteur with an ability to reel an audience in with his warmth and charm. ‘Why Kids’ was always going to be a warm, entertaining night.
The stories are good stories. Undoubtedly he has had an interesting life. He had a tumultuous early childhood in war-torn Europe, starting life as an orphan in Switzerland. He grew up as a migrant in Australia, completed an engineering degree and then became smitten by the acting bug. The rest of the story kind of told itself.
Szeps revealed himself as something of a homespun philosopher. Interestingly he spoke about using his acting experiences to come up with the deeper truths in his life. One of the insights that Hayes Gordon taught his students was that what happened on stage was all about the characters making actions towards each other.
He spoke about this theatrical convention in the context of a real life crisis he had with his teenage son.
He spoke about how his son had, so to speak, turned off him. It deeply concerned Szeps, and he became very introspective. He said he found the answer when he looked at the actions that he had been making towards Amos that had been very negative and critical, and when he changed his actions to a more positive, giving note, his son came around for him.

Szeps’s musical interludes worked, well sort of… They successfully complemented the string of anecdotes. He has an average voice that worked ok. The song choices were pretty ordinary with standard ballads. At least, there was the great Michele Legrand tune ‘Windmills of your mind’ in there. And the songs did tie in with the narrative of the play, ending with the great song ‘What a wonderful world’.
Summing up, ‘Why Kids’ was by no means any work of art, and at times it was a little cloying, yet it was a warm, entertaining evening in the theatre.

AFRICAN GOTHIC

Soul Tribe Theatre Company’s production of Reze De Wet’s ‘African Gothic’ was a grim night in the theatre.

Set on a desolate rural farm in South Africa, ‘African Gothic’ follows the lives of an orphaned brother and sister who have grown up without parental supervision. They have allowed their farm to fall to ruin by rejecting reality and creating an eerie fantasy life. That is, until an officious lawyer representing their Auntie visits the farm, and threatens to force them from the farm.

‘African Gothic’ features four characters; the disturbed brother and sister, Frikkie played by Adam Stewart, Susie played By Angela Bauer, lawyer Grove played by Adam Waterlow, and Aline played by Pamela Jikiemi.

I found Angela Bauer’s performance the most impressive. Bauer was strong and confident on stage, and with a good handle on her character. Antony Waterlow portrayed his character as conservative and repressed with an apartheid bias. Pamela Jikiemi played a small but significant role as the Afro-American servant Alina. Pamela cast an ominous shadow over the stage and the ‘couple’. It’s hard to know what she really thought of their bizarre mind games.

What did the play have to say? Above all, it was about the shattering impact of disturbed family lives. Through the play the siblings enact scenes from their abused childhood. The hint becomes clearer that the kids, in their distraught state, may have done away with their parents. And since the act, their lives have steadily gone downhill, deteriorating further and further into fantasy and nightmare.

These youngsters live their lives in the past; they are in a terrible time loop with no discernible future.

Other specters haunt the play…like apartheid. The youngsters’ farm is surrounded by native Africans.

Another shadow that haunts the play is that of incest. The siblings have been incestuous from a young age and it is something that infuriated their parents.

‘African Gothic’ played the Old Fitzroy theatre.

Birthday Party

The nerdy, bizarre figure of Stanley in Harold Pinter’s ‘The Birthday Party’ is one of those iconic figures of twentieth century theatre, similar to Stanley Kowalski in Tenessee Williams ‘Streetcar named Desire’. Both of these characters go through harrowing journeys.
Stanley, a nerdy but bright thirties something guy, has done something terribly wrong, and is hiding in the hovel of a boarding house run by Meg and Petey.
Stanley carries on with the couple like a spoilt brat. His life is fairly miserable but bearable.
That is, until two rather creepy guys, Goldberg and McCann, take up lodging at Meg’s boarding house. Stanley freezes when he sees them. They know something about his sordid past. From then on, life is never the same.

Pinter’s ‘Birthday Party’ is not one of my favorite plays,- it is such a dark and depressing play.
Still, there is no doubting its power. This was a searing study of guilt and recrimination.
The strongest aspect of Pinter’s play was some darkly startling scenes…Stanley receiving a tin drum and banging away at it furiously…the scenes of intimidation as Goldberg and McCann make Stanley feel so small as they drill away at his conscience.
‘The Birthday Party’ was put on as part of Company B’s B Sharp program, and produced by Shaft productions.
Robert Kennedy directed the production well and the cast performed strongly. Darren Weller played the prized role of Stanley- the most intense of the roles- and he gave a strong performance. Linal Haft played Golberg and Sam Haft played McCann.

Unlikely Prospect of Happiness

The Sydney Theatre Company’s production of ‘The Unlikely Prospect of Happiness’ wasn’t a world beater but it was sharp, breezy entertainment.
The play represents the fourth play by local playwright Tony McNamara that the Sydney Theatre Company has produced. The play follows on from ‘The John Wayner Principle’(1997), ‘The Recruit’(2000), and ‘The Virgin Mim’(2002).

‘The Unlikely Prospect’ is Ben O’s Sullivan’s story. His life is in a rut. Ben is a successful businessman- running the family’s clothing factory- but everything else in his life doesn’t sit right.
His marriage has lost its lustre, and his family are dysfunctional- his mother is always sick and on the verge of dying, his father rips off the clothes from his factory, his brother has a drinki9ng problem, and his priest is a very confused soul.
Ben’s life looks as if it is at a dead end. And then someone comes into his life who offers him a new way.
That someone is young, spunky tax auditor, Zoe Sparkes who comes to check Ben’s books are ok, and falls for him. A romance develops, and Ben’s life is then at the crossroads. Will Ben leave his wife and family for a new life or will he stay put.
McNamara takes all play to answer the question, keeping the interest going.

What’s the writer’s recipe? McNamara sets the pace very fast. The actors zap through their scenes. The dialogue was brisk and contemporary. There was a definite young people’s feel to the play. It should appeal to the twenties and thirties set.
‘The Unlikely Prospect’ featured a very modern apartment set. An uptempo, jingly sound design added to the plays’ breezy feel.
Thematically the play did not have that much to say.
What did I see as its weaknesses. It comes down to something that I have always felt about McNamara’s writing. His dialogue tends on the coarse side. More of a problem is that the playwright sometimes gets his characters to say things I just couldn’t possibly imagine them to say.
I recall when Judi Farr as then mother made a rather crude, long winded speech, that I couldn’t possibly imagine a woman of her type would say.

Jeremy Sims directed the production. I have seen a number of the productions he has directed and he is a consistently good director.
In the leading role Russell Dykstra started a little nervously, but came good.
I found Pia’s performance as Zoe a little underpowered. As Ben’s wife, Helen Dallimore came across well. She has a strong stage presence, and was always interesting to watch. Judi Farr seemed out of sorts and not particularly interested in her ‘lightweight’role.
Summing up. ‘The Unlikely Prospect of Happiness’ was an entertaining, well worked, albeit unexceptional piece of popular theatre.

Frozen

Bryony Lavery’s Frozen was a Melbourne Theatre Company production that was brought up to Sydney by STC Artistic Director Robyn Nevin.

This was a powerful drama featuring three intertwined characters. Helen Morse plays Nancy, a mother frozen in grief for her small daughter murdered many years prior.Frank Gallacher was Ralph, the serial killer who can’t stop himself.
Belinda McClory was Agnetha, the criminal psychologist assigned to Ralph’s case.

This was an intimate, in the face production. By play’s close, I felt that I had truly stepped into the shoes of these intense people.

Pocket sized dynamo Morse was strong as the still grieving Nancy. Morse’s brief was a challenge, to play a woman frozen in time by the murder of her daughter, who somehow has to find her way out of deep freeze to ‘life’ again .

In the productions’ program Lavery wrote of what stirred her in to writing the play.
“I was always aware that every time there was another film about the Moors murderers or some other case, these poor souls- the relatives of the dead- would be wheeled out to relive their frozen state. They were locked in a position of hatred, a state with no forward motion in it.
‘The prickly subject of forgiveness is central to ‘Frozen’…I once heard a relative of one of the Moors children saying, ‘I am a forgiving man, but I can’t forgive that’. It’s as if he thought forgiving was conditional”.

Morse’s arc is a huge one that she charts with skill. There are two main steps on the journey. The first step is when she becomes the leader of a victim support group.
The other is when she visits Ralph in jail. It is an electric, disturbing scene with Nancy trying to connect with him, showing him photos, telling him about her life.

Frank Gallacher gave the performance of the night as the strange, scary , vindictive, coarse, misogynistic monster that was Ralph.

The irony was that Ralph, in his own way, was a frozen character. He was also in deep freeze as a result of an abusive childhood and some severe neurological deficits..

Belinda McClory gave an accomplished performance as psychiatrist Agnetha. Belinda had an interesting role to play, the contrast between the supremely confident career woman, and the pain and confusion in her private life.

These main performances were supported by John Benjamin and Darren Schnase who played two guards, positioned on the extremities of the stage, who kept constant vigil on the ‘monster’.

Julian Meyrick directed Frozen, Ralph Myers designed an outstanding set, Paul Jackson did the lights and Tim Dargaville the sound.

‘Frozen’ played Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf 1 theatre.

AMIGOS

The Sydney Theatre Company’s new production is ‘Amigos’, the latest play by Australia’s most successful playwright, David Williamson.

In 1968 a group of four young Aussie rowers won a bronze medal at the Mexico Olympics. The locals dubbed the team ‘the Amigos’ because they were such a close knit and happy bunch.

A couple of decades later, the three remaining Amigos have one of their rare meetings. They have taken very different paths in life, Dick (Tony Llewelyn-Jones) is a heart specialist, Jim (Gary Day) is a wealthy banker, and Stephen (Gary McDonald) is one of society’s drop-outs.

There have been some telling body blows to the friendship over the years. The play’s dramatic tension comes from answering the question whether there remains a genuine friendship between the remaining Amigos or are they just living in the past?!

I wasn’t a fan of ‘Amigos’. The main reason was that I found the plays’ characters largely unsympathetic. There was no-one I really cared about.

The male characters were a bit nightmarish, and so materialistic and competitive. Williamson wrote that he wanted to write about male friendship, but these men were too busy social climbing to worry about maintaining good friendships!

Merchant banker Jim was the main character, and I found him so unlikable. He dumps his long suffering wife for a younger woman…He judges everyone by material success…He doesn’t help out Stephen, the poor Amigo, when he needs money to pay for his son’s cancer operation. And the main reason he has organized the reunion is to try and persuade Dick to consider him for the Australia Day Honors’ List as he is on the Board.

Williamson decided that his main character should do a U Turn at play’s end, and become a wholesome, giving person. I didn’t buy the change!

The wonderful Tony Llewelyn-Jones played heart surgeon Dick. Dick was a better quality character but also not very endearing. He was too insipid and wouldn’t stand up to Jim’s transparent manipulations. His sordid exploits with escort women in his twenties didn’t endear him either.

Gary McDonald played the character of the ‘poor Amigo’ Stephen. He doesn’t arrive on stage till just prior to interval. Stephen seemed more like a writer’s device than a flesh and blood character. His entrance starts with him planning to dump on Jim and Dick in his book exposing the real Amigos.

Stephen doesn’t have the courage to follow through on the expose, but at least he has a less materialistic approach to the world.

The female roles were not particularly dynamic or interesting. Both women, Hilary and Sophie, play women who have become involved with their bosses.

Natasha Elisabeth Beaumont plays Sophie who was Jim’s personal assistant before becoming his partner. Of the roles, Beaumont’s role is the most colorful, and she plays it well.

Sophie is a sexy young woman but there’s a brain ticking over fast. She’s also independently wealthy.

Rounding out the cast was Wendy Hughes as Dick’s wife, Hilary. One of our finest actors Hughes really had little to do. She just had to play whiny!

Jennifer Flowers competently directed the production.

21 Grams

Teresa Delgado and Benicio Del Toro. Pic Jim Sheldon

I finally got to see the much heralded ’21 Grams’. My response…?! This was one heck of a drama, deeply effecting.
What is it about?! Well, that’s a whole argument in itself. Everyone has their own theories; it is such an intense film.
My reading is that, at its highest, it is about troubled souls, pushed by circumstances to the very edge, and not sure which way to move.

It is about three people’s lives that are forever intertwined after a fatal car accident.

Our own local actress Naomi Watts plays Christina Peck. What an uphill road she has to climb! Her world has been pulled out from under her. Her husband and two young children have been killed in a car accident. She loses her ability to cope.
Christina starts to backslide. Before she was married she had a big drug problem. She resorts back to drugs. Then just as she slides back into the darkness of drugs, an important stranger befriends her.
Watts’s performance is riveting. She gets inside her role with great intensity. My favourite Watts scene…It’s a scene where she doesn’t say any words. It is post the fatal car accident. She is walking through her house, past her marital bedroom, past the childrens’ room, one knows exactly what she’s thinking. She’s thinking loss…enormous, unbearable loss.

Benicio Del Torro, so terrific in ‘Traffic , plays ex con Jack Jordan. Again, he proves what a great dramatic actor he is. Jordan is a man in great conflict. He has turned his life around from a life of crime by his strong Christian faith. He has a beautiful wife and kids.
Then he is the driver responsible for the car accident that kills Christina’s husband and kids. In a panic he leaves the accident scene. Later, he confesses to the police. The accident freezes him in time, he can’t seem to move forward in his life. He can’t reconcile what has happened with his belief in a benevolent God.
My favourite Del Torro scene…He is in a desolate room with a blade in his hand and he is looking at the tattoo of Jesus Christ on his arm. With his blade, he cuts away at the Christ tattoo. His sense of spiritual despair is all pervading.

Sean Penn plays mathematics professor Paul Rivers. Rivers is desperately ill and is awaiting a heart transplant. His wife is trying to get impregnated by him before he passes away. The will to live is draining away from him.
As fate would have it, Rivers is the recipient of Christina’s dead husband’s heart, and has another chance at life. He has a new motivation, to connect with the dead husband’s wife and .
My favourite Sean Penn scene…it was early on in the film. Rivers is smoking in the toilet, which actually says a lot, because the act of smoking is incredibly hazardous for him. Penn conveys his character’s sense of hopelessness and futility.
One can sense that he really feels no purpose in living any further. Again a terrific dramatic scene, and again a scene where not a word is spoken and so much meant.

Directed by Alejandro Inarritu and written by Guillermo Arriags, ‘21 Grams’ is a film well worth seeing.

House of Sand and Fog

‘House of Sand and Fog’ is based on the best selling novel by Andre Dubis the Third with screenplay and direction by Vadim Perelman.

The film tells the story of two people at loggerheads. The movie poster crystallizes this theme showing Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) and Behrani (Ben Kingsley) in an uncompromising, bitter pose.
They both want the same thing and it is a battle to the end as to who will finally have it.

The fight is over a house. Kathy, a beautiful but troubled woman, has been evicted from her home by local county sheriffs for not paying taxes. The house was her inheritance from her father. Kathy gets legal advice that she has been wrongfully evicted.

The problem is that before she can do anything about it, the county has listed her property for sale and the house is sold at a greatly undervalued price. The buyer is a Mr Behrani, a former Iranian colonel. Behrani has brought his family to America to make a fresh start, fleeing from the oppression in his homeland.

What ensues is a gigantic battle of wills as Kathy does everything in her power to get her house back, whilst Behrani determinedly holds onto his new acquisition.

‘House of Sand and Fog’ was an outstanding drama. Greed, procrastination, avarice, lust, abuse of power, manipulation, racism, a spectrum of human vulnerabilities and complexities are all on show.

I found the essence of ‘House of Sand and Fog’ to be that all three main players are slaves to their emotions, and lack any insight into their selfishness, and the damages their actions cause.

Kathy can’t see past her huge emotional investment in her house. Behrani’s vision doesn’t extend past building a financial future for his family. Lester allows his desire for Kathy to overwhelm his career, and his life.

Ben Kingsley is a fine dramatic actor and he demonstrates his prowess in his portrayal of a deeply proud man who cannot cope seeing his feeling of power drain from him.

Connelly matches Kingsley’s performance. She charts her character’s journey well, from something of a self centered prig to a a compassionate, sensitive woman.

Ron Eldard’s performance as Lester was deeply felt. I had a real handle on his character. A wishy washy man, easily swayed and manipulated in any direction. Kathy hardly has to press a button for him to go into action for her.

‘House of Sand and Fog’ is highly recommended. This was one of those films that one can talk about endlessly over a good meal and a glass of wine.

Love’s Brother

‘Love’s Brother’ is a charming, new Australian film that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The film has been written and directed by Jan Sardi who wrote the screenplay to ‘Shine’.

Let me set the scene. It is a town outside Melbourne in the 1950’s, with a large immigrant Italian community. The main character is Angelo, a bit of an ugly duckling who wants to find a wife and settle down. The local community has a dearth of Italian women so, through a local matchmaker, he corresponds with women in Italy who are looking to make a new life for themselves. (This practice was quite common at the time, known as looking for a proxy bride).
Angelo keeps on getting knocked back, and he is despairing of ever finding anyone. It is only with the encouragement of his younger brother, Gino, and his friends that he keeps on trying.
One night he is replying to another sweetheart, and he comes up with an act of desperation. With each letter that he forwards on, he has to attach a photo of himself. This night he chooses to send a photo of his much younger and better looking brother Gino.
Rosetta, a beautiful looking young southern Italian woman from a deeply impoverished family, receives the letter, and taken by the sentiments and the handsome photo, says yes.
As is the case with proxy marriages, quick marriage ceremonies are arranged for Angelo and Rosetta in their home towns. And then Rosetta boards her boat to take her from Italy to the port of Melbourne.

So there we have a quite exquisite set-up. So many lives are now affected.
How is Angelo going to resolve his sticky situation? How is Gino going to react when he finds out his brother has used his photo? The brothers are so close, will their love for each other be people to survive such deception? How will Rosetta cope with being so deceived, will she deal with the situation or will she rush back to Italy? How will Angelo’s local community, so supportive of him, cope with him behaving so dishonestly?

How does ‘Love’s Brother’ unfold? I’m not going to spoil the film by going into any more detail. You will have to have make the effort to see the film, to see how Sardi delicately plays out the various scenarios.
Rest assured that ‘Love’s Brother’ is worth visiting. It is an accomplished film, well orchestrated by Sardi, superbly lit by cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, with a quality cast headed by Amelia Warner, Adam Garcia and Giovani Ribisi.

Lucky One

Prolific fringe playwright and producer Tony Laumberg’s latest play ‘The Lucky One’ has played NIDA’s Parade theatre.This was a very different play from the playwrights’ previous productions, ‘Unsolicited Male’ and ‘The Great Divide’.

Both these plays were rich comedies, stemming from Laumberg’s legal background. Laumberg is a practicing solicitor, working in the eastern suburbs. This time the playwright has chosen a more dramatic and personal theme, the life and struggles of his late father, Max

Max was a miraculous survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. The story goes that when Tony was growing up his father told him that when he was more mature he would tell him about his experiences in the camps. Finally, with Tony in his early thirties, Max was ready to tell his story. And Tony was ready to hear out, with his tape recorder at the ready.

A memorable piece of oral history was being collected. Tony transcribed the tapes, and knew that at some time he would write something with them. After the success of his two plays Tony decided to write a play from the material. And so we come to the ‘The Lucky One’.

These were the things that stood out from ‘The Lucky One’…The wisecracking humour between father and son…also the tension between them as Max tried to make sure his son had a good start to life. A piece of dialogue stood out: Max wanted Tony to be a doctor. Tony’s reply,-‘well I was a stand-up comic, Dad at least I’m a lawyer now’.

Max’s journey was well portrayed. The audience was swept away with Max’s torturous war journey. Every time that he seemed to be finally free from his situation he would be entrapped again. He truly was lucky to have survived.

A scene that stood out was the one depicting how his parents got married. During the Holocaust there was such a sense of danger that people could only think of living one day at a time. There were many Holocaust weddings, instant weddings because people did not know whether they would be around tomorrow. Such was the marriage of his parents.

The two performances by David Ritchie and Scott Agius were excellent.

‘The Lucky One’ was a very personal, touching night at the theatre, and one felt honoured to be part of it.

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