The experience of Sydney playwright and actor Mark Langham’s new play AMANDA is like trying to put the pieces together of a large, complex puzzle.
From the very first scene we know that Amanda- Amylea Griffin- is in a deep funk in her life. She is being harshly interrogated by two officers, Inspector Hood (Paul Armstrong) and Kovac (Elizabeth McGregor) in regards to a crime, the offence of which we only find out much later. The play’s over-arching question, how has Amanda got tn to this morass?!
The ongoing debate about same sex marriage and parenting is still in full swing in 2014, 33 years after playwright Alison Lyssa wrote PINBALL.
She wrote the play to help a lesbian mother who was fighting a very costly court case for custody of her children. Society has come a long way in its acceptance of same sex parents, but prejudice still exists today. It’s good that Lyssa’s play has been revived for Mardi Gras Sydney 2014, to remind us of the pain that this kind of exclusion can bring loving parents.
Theenie and Sylvester have separated – Theenie has moved on to a new life with her lesbian girlfriend, Axis, and Sylvester has found a new wife, Louise, the epitome of conservative acceptability. Theenie and Sylvester have an eight year old son, Alabaster, (all the children on stage are imagined), who will soon be the victim of a nasty custody battle.
The Unpathed Theatre Company’s second production at the Tap Gallery, THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW, is a beautifully written play and a joy to watch.
Set in The Bronx, it was written in 1985 by American playwright and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley. He won an Academy Award for his screenplay, “Moonstruck”, and has won several theatre awards including a Tony and Pulitzer Prize for his play, “Doubt”.
THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW is a story about love, betrayal, yearning and disappointment.
Donna (played by Ainslie Clouston), is a sharp-tongued and savvy woman from the Bronx. Her boyfriend Tommy (played by Scott Lee), afraid of their intense attachment, has left her and slept with Donna’s 16 year old sister.
Donna arrives at Tommy’s sparse and sordid apartment – where he hides away poeticising about the dark depths of his subconscious – keeping company with his armchair and best friend, a refrigerator full of beer. Donna confronts him about his ill-chosen infidelity, giving him an ultimatum – leave my sister alone or I’m gone forever. There ensues a battle of the wits, an intense and cleverly written tug-of-war between their need to love each other and fear of commitment.
Writer, director Paul Gilchrist has achieved a lot with his production of CHRISTINA IN THE CUPBOARD, now showing at the TAP Gallery in Darlinghurst.
Described in the program notes as “an experiment in comic magic realism”, the play is primarily effective due to the richness of its dialogue and powerhouse performances by a mainly young and exuberant cast.
Christina (Sylvia Keays) has retreated from the world, locking herself in a cupboard in her bedroom and apparently “withdrawing” from life, in part to do battle with her own “Leviathan”, a shadowy monster of the mind.
This has a profound effect on her family and friends who are all attempting to process the supposed abnormality of her actions, what role they played in her decision and what can and should be done to get her to come back to reality. They then embark on a number of strategies to coax her out of her situation.
Whilst those closest to her seem overly concerned about her well being, Christina herself seems strangely inured to their concerns, seeing nothing overly wrong with her desire to shut herself off, for a time, to disengage as a way of re-engaging with the world. As she says, “there are 7 billion of us out there” and her situation is undoubtedly being repeated elsewhere in the world somewhere.
This was this reviewer’s first trip to the TAP Gallery theatre and its surroundings left me not expecting very much, if the truth be told. Yet having seen plenty of Sydney theatre over the years full of lavish sets and big-name thespians, this show turned out to be a surprise joy on a number of levels and the sparseness of the set meant that all that was left were the words and those delivering them, and neither disappointed.
Keays shines in the lead role, where she is thankfully not confined to a cupboard but is free to roam the stage expressing the complexity of a character much wiser and worldly than her age would suggest.
She is constantly making comparisons with Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed taking the necessary time out to “find” themselves, and as absurd as these comparisons initially seem, they certainly provide the fodder for some of the play’s more amusing exchanges.
Alice Keohavong delivers a passionate performance as little sister Anna, beset with her own issues but needing her sister to be there for her.
Sonya Kerr and Sinead Curry are particularly memorable and provide much of the comic relief as Christina’s “best” friends Erica and Belinda, whose puerile competitive streak and obsession with social media and their number of Facebook “friends” offer a striking metaphor for the banality of the so-called real world, the one in which Christina is trying to escape from.
Helen Tonkin (Gwen) and Peter McAllum (Robert) put in first-rate performances as exasperated parents trying to process the notion that their daughter is in some way abnormal and that they had done something wrong to bring about this situation.
The parental perspective also gives the production a powerful counterpoint to the youthful perspective of the rest of the characters, and they are not afraid to ask some of the tougher questions, both of themselves and the others: are we any wiser just because we’re older? Is parenthood something people enter into out of a sense of obligation, because they are taught that it is the right thing to do, because it satisfies a primordial urge? Do mothers by definition love their children more than their children love them?
McAllum also provides some of the most memorable comedic moments, replying to Christina’s references to God with a very loud “Christ”.
Stephen Wilkinson as Christina’s nervous ex boyfriend Gabriel and Kelly Robinson as the somewhat enigmatic Lucinda are also highly believable.
Aside from the acting, what really makes this production work is the way in which Gilchrist’s dialogue has successfully captured so many aspects of life in a 90-minute timeslot: the struggle for acceptance, what constitutes normality, the need to conform to feel accepted, the struggle against loneliness, what is responsibility and what are the consequences of shirking that responsibility, all of which are explored through a myriad of characters within the confines of one small stage.
The theme of normality is one that underpins the play from the get go and what is particularly interesting is how some of Christina’s soliloquising constitutes some of the most level-headed thinking in the play.
CHRISTINA IN THE CUPBOARD is a must for serious theatregoers with a sterling cast, some of which may well be household names in the not-too-distant future. As an audience member, I entered a little theatrical cupboard in a gallery basement, and left with a feeling of being part of the grand magic of the theatre as an art form and with the philosophical duty of inquiring about, and answering the questions, of what it means to be human.
Subtlenuance Theatre Company’s production of Paul Gilchrist’s CHRISTINA IN THE CUPBOARD opened at the Tap Gallery on Wednesday November 6 and runs until Sunday November 17, 2013.
Henry Crowley is a prominent Sydney CBD lawyer. Pompous and pragmatic, he lives with his wife, Margaret, in the safe, conservative suburb of St. Ives.
Henry, unaware of his wife’s previous job with ASIO, is also unaware that it is Margaret who wears the trousers in their marriage. She announces, over several martinis, that she has decided to take in an Iranian refugee from an Indonesian boat, awaiting the outcome of his asylum application, and introduces Ahmed Zahedi, a mathematics professor with a penchant for the theatrical.
Ahmed has already moved in, much to Henry’s horror, particularly as Henry is being interviewed for a feature article by a ruthless journalist from the Financial Review, Rhonda Harper. Before Rhonda arrives at their home, Henry’s cousin from Queensland, Micky Crowley, also arrives at their usually tranquil doorstep. Micky is a harmless, but obnoxious chronic gambler, badly dressed in shorts and thongs.
This is a wonderful entrée into a very effective comedy of errors. The actors all bring fresh and funny idiosyncrasies to their characters. Mark McCann is particularly enjoyable as bombastic Henry, Tricia Youlden brings great comic timing to her calm and controlling Margaret. Geoff Sirmai plays a quirky, eccentric Ahmed, Marc Kay brings vulnerability to a reckless and clumsy Micky and Brigid O’Sullivan is fabulous as the scheming journalist Rhonda.
This play is the 13th collaboration between writer Tony Laumberg and director Richard Cotter. Ten of these have been the well-known ‘Lawyer’ comedies, which have developed quite a cult following, particularly amongst Sydney’s theatre-going legal fraternity. Laumberg is not only a talented writer, but has a legal practice in his spare time! The play is well written and highly enjoyable under the clever direction of Cotter. What impressed me about the play is the lack of racism and clichés. The humour is inoffensive to all the characters that are represented, bringing a sense of balance to the comedy.
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE LAWYER plays the Tap Gallery, Darlinghurst, from Thursday 10th October to Sunday 27th October.
When overexcited Jackie rushes into his girlfriend Veronica’s apartment with a bunch of flowers held high jabbering his undying love for her, THE MOTHERF**CKER WITH THE HAT, by Stephen Adly Guirgis, gets off to a cracking start. Thanks to the play’s smart sassy New York one-liners the audience in this intimate venue is immediately enthralled and energised, as breathless and fired up as the sultry, skimpily clad Veronica (Zoe Trilsbach).