31 January 2012

Review: The Year of Magical Wanking

Midsumma 2012
The Year of Magical Wanking
Theatre Works
17 January 2012
Theatre Works, St Kilda
to 29 January

Neil Watkins's The Year of Magical Wanking perfects Theatre Works Men at Work glorious Midsumma threesome with a bold and moving verse monologue that confronts his addiction to the painful, anonymous sex that Watkins let "fist my soul" and left him wondering about his relationship with Jesus.

If you expect anything different from the title, remember it's a homage Joan Didion's painful and serious The Year of Magical Thinking Unlike Didion, Watkins didn't lose a partner and child, but his year of self-reflection confronts the shame that left him craving intimacy but terrified to find it because it hurt too much to feel.

Growing up Catholic in Ireland, Watkins identified as one of the last gay ashamed: men who grey up hiding their sexuality and taking lonely comfort in anonymous sex. We still have a way to move as a society, but we're on the right track and hopefully the words gay and shame will never be connected for future generations.

With irresistible alliteration like "addicted to my dick" and the discovery that the anagram of his name perfect (you can figure it out), Wanking's poetry is funny and confronting, and his reflections about intimacy and fear are so real that you don't need you're own cock to recognise the hurt or grasp onto the hope.

Have no shame in watching Watkins self indulgence; it's only awkward for a moment and you'll leave feeling all the better for it.

This review appeared on AussieThearte.com

Review: Girls Do Gertrude!

Girls Do Gertrude!
Black Apple Theatre
24 January 2011
Northcote Town Hall
to 29 January

Forty women spent six days in Falls Creek with Gertrude Stein. The result is Midsumma's in Girls Do Gertrude! at the Northcote Town Hall. 

I haven't read any Gertrude Stein, but I saw Midnight in Paris at the flicks and read Alice B Toklas's recipe for dope brownies (that she didn't write), which both leave me wanting to be in Paris in the 20s trading wit and boho style tips with the cool artists. Although I suspect I'd want to slap Hemingway.

The Gerty done by the girls is two of her plays; neither of which left me wanting to read more Stein. Her language is much easier to appreciate on a page and written for readers as remarkable and well-read as Stein herself. What makes Girls So Gertrude! so lovely is that both directors create ways to make the text utterly enjoyable to an audience without forcing understanding.

A Circular Play is a storyless collection of music-like texts written for an ensemble of voices. Director Cheyney Caddy places it in a pastel 20s salon complete with paper lanterns, chaise lounges, overflowing greenery, a goldfish and a bunny. With live music and in the too-perfect deco hall, 11 women sing, dance, recite and chat in circles about circles. It's all style and plenty of substance that's best enjoyed as an atmospheric indulgence rather than a literary appreciation.  And Debra Hallum's ridiculously beautiful frocks ensure that every woman is drop-dead gorgeous.

Three Sisters Who Are Not Sisters was described by Stein as a melodrama and written when she was hiding out in Vichy with her Jewish wife as war ravaged their beloved Paris. Three sisters, who are not sisters, and twin boys are bored and "play a play" of murder in their pjs. Its repetition underlines the impact of repeated behaviour and questions the lines between play and reality, but it's really a lot of fun. Director Yvonne Virsik finds this humour, adds some more and lets her cast play with the play without losing the delicacy of the text.

Girls Do Gertrude! brings Stein dancing into the now and will leave you wanting to charleston the night away with an enticing girl in a pastel, drop waist gown. Just try to get a seat in the front row if you're not blessed with height.

Photo by Sarah Walker

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

26 January 2012

January review previews

Review: Negative Energy Inc 2

Midsumma 2012
Negative Energy Inc
Theatre Works
15 January 2012
Theatre Works
to 4 February

Being a white boy from Brighton is so damn hard that it's left Ash Flanders in a foul mood for 30-odd years. Like me, Ash generally hates things and people and is only happy when he's sharing the pain with a long rant and an obscure show tune. Negative Energy Inc is the stand up story of why he draws his mandala in black and it rightly left the opening night crowd stomping and cheering.

Negative Energy Inc started when Ash's boyfriend, Daniel, told him about The Secret. That's not some Midsumma-boy thing, I mean that book rich white women (and Oprah) love that's all about vision boards and controlling your life with a few nice thoughts. I hated it from the time a yoga teacher got into it and said that the only thing stopping me from holding standing bow for ever was my thoughts. She didn't put on 30 kg and grow a scabby trunk from her third eye, so I guess my thoughts still aren't good enough.

Ash's hate of The Secret made him think hard about why his acting career wasn't perfect – despite the love of every critic – and why he wasn't doing sold-out, critically acclaimed shows in festivals...

Shut up ... There's no way that's The Secret in action. Surely it would have happened if he hadn't thought about it.

The first season of Negative Energy Inc did sell out, I raved and his performance as the Horse Woman from Judge Judy became legend.

As Theatre Works insisted that it come to Midsumma, Stephen Nicolazzo came on board as director and helped shape the story to bring out its darker nature and bravely camp up accompanist Dave Barclay.

Ash creates an stab-in-the-heart antidote to harmlessly dull theatre as this laugh cos-it-hurts-to-cry show  tickles your brain 'til you're squealing and makes you want to share a bunk with him at Christian camp.

Ash is also very sensible (there's your quotable) and performing only on Sundays and Mondays; those nights when other shows (and theatre restaurants) have nights off, leaving us stuck with telly or thinking about going to the tennis – so there's no reason not to get yourself to St Kilda and dose up on his misery.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by  ISKA Photography

22 January 2012

Review: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
MTC presents the Belvoir production
16 January 2012
Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse
to 18 February 2012

Sometime in the 70s, the ABC filmed the MTC production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll; my grandmother made me watch it with her.  I didn't really get it, but I liked it, especially as 1950s Melbourne and 1970s Adelaide weren't that far apart. Years later in high school, The Doll was an English text and I aspired to be Bubba; I still didn't really get. Now that I'm older than Pearl and Olive, I get it, and the opening night ovation for this production and for writer Ray Lawler confirmed that it's still one of the best plays out there and a piece of Australian theatre history that should be compulsory.

Does Summer of the Seventeenth Doll really need an introduction?  If you've been to high school in Australia, you must have read it. It's the one set in Carlton in the 50s, where two cane-cutters arrive to spend their 17th five-month lay off with their Melbourne barmaid girlfriends, but one of the women left to get married, the cane season brought trouble and all are confronted with not being 30 anymore.

It's a brilliant story that forces painful change as each character faces the chasm between what they want to be seen as and who they are, and it's a masterclass in the power of a three-act structure.

Director Neil Armfield lets Lawler's writing lead and he guides his cast to find a depth and a rawness to their characters that brings a freshness and new understanding to those familiar with the text.

Steve Le Marquand (Roo), Travis McMahon (Barney) and TJ Power (Johnny) each reject comfort for the need to be masculine, but this production is about the women.

Eloise Winestock shows how much Bubba wants to be a better version of Olive. While Alison Whyte lets Olive be the young woman who flouted convention and ages in moments as she's offered a salvation that means she's lost everything.

Robyn Nevin is unforgettable as Olive's caustic mother Emma, who sees the truth and can't help her daughter.  But Helen Thomson's Pearl is the performance to see. Too often Pearl is a prude, but Thomson lets us see why Olive chose her in the first place – she's a hoot – but she knows that reputation is all that she has and can't let herself be swept into Olive's life. Choosing an un-married and openly sexual life in the 40s and 50s was a choice that few women willingly made and Olive's explanation to Pearl about decency depending on people can't dull the sting of having other women feel sorry for you.

This Summer of the Seventeeth Doll confirmed it as one of my favourite plays. Lawler ensures that we understand why every choice is made, but we long for every one to choose differently and find a way back to happiness and love. Its honesty is as true now as ever and its world is still so close to ours. I'm sure I’m not alone in admitting that I'd bluff happiness rather than have anyone feel sorry for me.

If you love Australian theatre, if you love theatre, you have no excuse to miss see this Doll.

This review appeared on AussieThearte.com

Photo by Jeff Busby

20 January 2012

Review: Mother/SON

Midsumma 2012
Jeffrey Solomon and Theatre Works
11 January 2012
Theatre Works
to 21 January

Theatre Works's Men at Work Midsumma season kicked off on an unseasonal chilly night with a warming tale of family love and the question of why anyone would answer the phone if their mum rang while they were having sex.

Mother/SON has toured the US and the UK and been seen in the Phillipines and Sri Lanka. Written and performed by Jeffrey Solomon, it's a mostly autobiographical story of his coming out to his mother and how both learnt to accept the other's imperfections and continue to love each other regardless. Solomon plays both roles.

Set in the 90s, it's a time of phones with cords and answering machines, when a kd lang CD was compulsory for any date and a skin lesion terrified the sexually active.  Only-child Bradly moved to LA to write for a sit-com and has many phone conversations with his over-loving Jewish mother in Long Island. Having provided neither a wedding nor grandchildren and not wanting the home-shopping channel gifts she gets him, he finally tells her the truth: that he's "that kind of gay".

Filled with sharp wit and delicate observation, this story is much more than a coming out drama and its heart is Solomon's understanding of his mother's initial difficulty in accepting her gay son, and his honest portrayal of a middle age, bridge-playing woman who's scared of the holes she was born with and knows that Jews must never laugh at people who are different.

While their parent-child bond is closer than comfortable for some of us, it's a story about why parents should always show their children that they love them, no matter how grown up they are or what the neighbours think.

Take your mum.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

Review: Urban Display Suite

Urban Display Suite
Ross Mollison International
MTC Theatre, Lawler Studio
14 January 2012
to 21 January 2012

The zeitgeist bought its three-bedroom deco flat in St Kilda before the boom and has never left. Property prices: you're either smiling as you sip Moet or googling "sell my kidney" and realising that, even with the first home buyers grant,  you need another 25 body parts to get a deposit. Michael Dalley's real estate musical satire Urban Display Suite returns for its third season with a sharp wit that leaves its audiences grinning and ready to buy.

With music co-written with the ever-wonderful John Thorn and joined by the delightfully slimy Lyall Brooks, Gabrielle Quin and Sharon Davis, Dalley continues his astute observations of middle class suburbia with a nearly-too-close-for-comfort review about our obsession with property.

As a renter, even the sight of four pretend real estate agents walking into the theatre is enough to evoke fear and loathing. Fortunately, cabaret favourite Dalley has seen many of them himself and softens the terror with an opening song about the type of people who get that Cert IV in real estate and believe that their jobs are important.

Dividing property owners into bogans and wankers, the rest of us are safe to LOL at post-Federation-Square architecture and spot-on gorgeous songs about McMansion facades and shit art of the Mornington Peninsula. But expect to blush if you're counting on your parents leaving their house to you, and don't be surprised if your inner-apiring-home-owner-bogan agrees that you don't need a personality or a ten-inch penis if you bought before the boom.

Urban Display Suite has extended its season for another week and is a must if you spend your weekend reading Domain.

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

16 January 2012

Ray Lawler on What I Wrote

Before heading to the MTC to see Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, here's some of an interview with writer Ray Lawler from the What I Wrote series.

What I Wrote is a series of interviews with Australian playwrights by Dr Tess Brady. It's been shown on the ABC and on DVD . There's also terrific notes (as a pdf) for teachers and students (and theatre goers).


Lawler's hints for writers