31 May 2013

Mini review: True Love Travels on a Gravel Road

True Love Travels on a Gravel Road
23 May 2013
fortyfive downstairs
to 2 June

Jane Miller is one of my favourite Melbourne writers. Her work lets us see the hearts of her broken characters and she knows that the only way to survive the unexpected horrors of love is to embrace the darkness and laugh.

True Love Travels on a Gravel Road is set in a country town where two couples are trying to figure out what to do next. For Maggie and Jake, it's a trip to Graceland and things like Maggie's husband or Jakes lack of money needn't stand in the way of their dream.

With spot on performances (Chris Broadstock, Marnie Gibson, Emily Goddard, David Kambouris, Elizabeth McColl and Glenn van Oosterom) and tone-perfect direction by Beng Oh, there's not much more to say, except that it finishes on Sunday.

Flowerchildren: a Facebook status

Flowerchildren: The Mamas and Papas Story
30 May 2013
The Comedy Theatre

Last night Sarah Collins (Choir Girl) saw Flowerchildren. She went because she studied at Monash with its writer (Peter Fitzpatrick) and knows a member of the ensemble . This is what she wrote on Facebook when she got home:

"Casey Donovan singing "Dream a Little Dream" in Flowerchildren could be one of the most beautiful, rip-your-heart-out moments I have ever seen on stage. A genius casting choice, truly. I had no idea she could act as well as she could sing. She is the real deal, holy smokes. I hope this musical keeps on going until it reaches Broadway. So much potential, so many spine tingles.

For that moment it's worth it – the other cast are incredible, too. I guess I just wasn't expecting to be blown away by an Idol contestant. Justin (Kennedy, Donna and Damo) and I came home and went through their entire back catalogue on YouTube can now see even better just how well the others nailed their performances and the costuming was so true to life. Mostly I'm just glad there's something local on that isn't about a sporting legend."

She also said that last night's audience was intimate, but some still gave it a standing ovation.

Melbourne. Please see this show. It's so much better than the commercial photocopies of American musicals that we get, and Sarah and I are not the only people who think it should make it to Broadway.

30 May 2013

Review: Flowerchildren, The Mamas and Papas Story

Flowerchildren: The Mamas and Papas Story
22 May 2013
The Comedy Theatre
to 23 June

Magnormos's 2011 premiere of Flowerchildren: The Mamas and Papas Story sold out at Theatre Works, got rave reviews (here's mine) and made it onto favourite and award's lists. It's since been developed and has opened its first professional season at The Comedy Theatre. If it doesn't sell out, get rave reviews and awards, there's something wrong with the system because it's as close to perfect as music theatre can be.

The story spans 1965 to 68, the years that The Mamas and The Papas, an American folk rock quartet,  recorded and performed as a group, sold millions of records and ensured their place in music history. The music, mostly written by John Phillips, is still as memorable today and epitomises the sound of hippy California.

But it wasn't all flowers and free love. Peter Fitzpatrick wrote the (immaculately researched) book and has been working with Aaron Joyner (director, producer and musical arranger; and founder of Magnormos) since 2009 to develop the work. With its four narrators, it focuses behind the hits and public adoration, and the genius moment is making the storytelling about the songs; leaving it hard to ever hear some of them again without feeling the love, pain or bitterness that created them.

Joyner's arrangements weaves the music around the narrative, letting it to be heard as more than a final product, but the highlights are the recreations of their recorded sound. Music director Sophie Thomas creates a live sound that's got be as amazing as sitting on a bean bag with a huge pair of stereo headphones and a special cookie while listening to them for the first time. Their studio recordings with eight-part harmonies are created with four more singers who sing as ensemble characters and from backstage. I think they were more visible in the original version and I missed seeing how the four created a live eight-person sound.

It's naturally a much bigger show, with a new design and extra ensemble, but it hasn't lost any of its intimacy. So much that it feels like it's still finding out how to fill so much space – which they needn't worry about because the sound and the stories are huge and the cast make the group so real that its feels weird watching the real Mamas and Papas on YouTube.

Casey Donavan (Cass), Laura Fitzpatrick (Michelle), Matt Hetherington (John) and Dan Humphris (Denny) tell the four individual stories and the group's story like it's theirs. What makes this production so much more than a bio-show is performances that embrace all the atrocious behaviour, addiction and ability to hurt each other without losing the any of their character's heart. They let us see that everyone believed that were doing the best thing, even if it was obvious to everyone else that it wasn't.

And they can sing. Wow, can they sing. While they sound like the group, each brings enough of themselves to make it sound fresh. And, although it feels wrong to single out anyone in such a consistently sensational ensemble, gorgeous Casey Donavan makes sure that Cass Elliot hears and shares Casey's cheer for "Dream a Little Dream of Me".

If you don't know the music of The Mamas and The Papas, you will be in love with it before the interval. If you've loved them for years, discovering their story can hurt, but nothing takes away from that music. And it might be best to not google too hard to learn about composer John Phillips. He was a far from perfect man, but he created music that's outlived him and will take a long time to fade.

It's kind of odd that a small independent music theatre company from Melbourne has created such a perfect telling of such an American group, but it's one that's going to travel far from Melbourne. (Is somebody flying Michelle Phillips out to see it?) And if we can create such stunning music theatre in Australia, why can't some of the money that goes to re-creating American productions be spent on developing more work like this?

I'm also aware that this is a pricey ticket show and that there doesn't seem to be any concession priced tickets. Hopefully there will be deals and offers, because it would be more than a shame if people who have supported Magnormos in the past can't afford to see this and take everyone they know.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

27 May 2013

Review: One Man, Two Guvnors

One Man, Two Guvnors
MTC, Arts Centre Melbourne, National Theatre of Great Britain
21 May 2013
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 22 June

By the guffaws at the opening night of One Man, Two Guvnors, it's guaranteed to be a sold-out must-see. With a cast and script as tight as a mother-of-the-bride's girdle, low-class British farce doesn't get any classier.

Commissioned by the National Theatre of Great Britain, it opened in June 2011 and had to move to the West End, where it won a swag of awards, is still running and is also touring the world. With a script by Richard Bean (who wrote The Heretic, seen last year at the MTC), it's an adaption of Servant of Two Masters, a 1742 Italian commedia comedy.

Pauline and Alan are getting engaged, but Pauline's homosexual ex-fiance (her dad made the beard deal in prison) turns up after they thought he was dead. But don't worry cos he is dead and has a twin sister and ... and that's just a sub plot! Meanwhile Francis Henshell's accidentally gone and got himself two jobs and two bosses, who are both in the same hotel (a pub that does food!) and all he has to do is keep them apart, get a feed and meet the dolly of his dreams.

If you're arty and posh, it's a contemporary reflection on commedia dell'arte with a broad social commentary about a time when Britain thought it was going to change. Or – it's bloody funny and set in 1963. It's a bit Carry On/Are You Being Served? but created for and by smart people, and with less tit jokes.

There's a skiffle band (and original songs by Grant Olding) to make the scene changes and the interval much more fun; an old school design with side flats and a curtain that's been designed with as much understanding, irony and jokes as the script (and it's a bit gorgeous); and a cast who deftly balance the line between art and good taste before pratfalling over it and running as fast as they can away from any semblance of arty sensibility.

Owain Arthur owns the show as Francis Henshell, but Mark Jackson as an ailing octegenarian and Edward Bennett as the personification of why we laugh at private boys school are scene stealers and there's no one on the stage who doesn't love and get exactly what this show is.

If the law firm of Dangle, Berry and Bush makes you giggle, you're already loving it.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

23 May 2013

May review previews

Flowerchildren: The Mamas and Papas Story
22 May 2013
The Comedy Theatre
to 16 June

Magnormos's 2011 premiere of Flowerchildren: The Mamas and Papas Story sold out at Theatre Works, got rave reviews (here's mine) and made it onto favourite and award's lists. It's since been developed and has opened its first professional season at The Comedy Theatre. If it doesn't sell out, get rave reviews and awards, there's something wrong with the system because it's as close to perfect as music theatre can be.

The story spans 1965 to 68, the years that The Mamas and The Papas, an American folk rock quartet,  recorded and performed as a group, sold millions of records and ensured their place in music history. The music, mostly written by John Phillips, is still as memorable today and epitomises the sound of hippy California.

The full review is on AussieTheatre.com and will be here in a few days.

And here's a bonus: Julie Andrews and Mama Cass!

One Man, Two Guvnors
MTC, Arts Centre Melbourne, National Theatre of Great Britain
21 May 2013
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 22 June

By the guffaws at the opening night of One Man, Two Guvnors, it's guaranteed to be a sold-out must-see. With a cast and script as tight as a mother-of-the-bride's girdle, low-class British farce doesn't get any classier.


The full review is on AussieTheatre.com and will be here in a few days.

21 May 2013

Grumpy Cat knows us well

Review: Nixon in China

Nixon in China
Opera Victoria
16 May 2013
Her Majesty's Theatre
21 and 23 May

I've loved Nixon in China from the time I curiously listened to a highlights recording and John Adams became one of my favourite contemporary composers at its opening chorus. Opera Victoria's exquisite production has confirmed its place as a masterpiece of 20th century art and loudly hinted that the best opera in Australia is not being made by our national company.

The opera is based on President Nixon's visit to China in 1972. Nixon dubbed his visit "the week that changed the world" and brought his wife, Pat, National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger (who organised the visit secretly and is the only character still alive), and the American press corps with him. While this would be a nothing story today (unless maybe Obama went to North Korea), it was the first time in 25 years that the west had seen China – one fifth's of the world's population had been hidden – and this first-term president knew that he was making history.

Nixon continued to make history and is remembered more for the Watergate tapes than what was achieved by the visit to China, as Mao Tse-tung and his wife Chiang Ch'ing are now mostly remembered mostly for the atrocities they supported.

The last time Australia saw a Nixon in China was 1992 when the Adelaide Festival presented Peter Sellars's original 1987 production, which he created hand-in-hand with Adams and librettist Alice Goodman, even if they often disagreed.  Sellars re-created this production in 2011 for the New York Met (seen here in cinemas), so most familiarity with the work comes from his productions. Opera Victoria have a budget about the size of the Met's shoe budget, so director Roger Hodgman and his creators had to make very different artistic choices.

Designer Richard Roberts simplifies the world with a set that's symbolic rather than a reflection of the photos of the time. A huge red curtain is the backdrop for most of the action, with Esther Marie Hayes's costumes adding the historical placement.

This relative simplicity allows for a more contemporary reading of the work and without being tied so tightly to living memory (all I remember of 1972 was getting a baby brother), there are moments that are so much stronger when seen from now. There's Nixon's singing about the mystery of "news" and his amazement at the satellite technology that lets the whole world watch and listen. Mao's talking about liking right wing politicians and the "facism" of the extreme left could be an opinion piece today, and Pat's dismay at a jade elephant not being one of a kind came before "Made in China" was printed on so much of our stuff.

However, without knowledge of the history, Act 1 is especially confusing and would benefit from something as simple as a projection of date and place. (I spent the interval explaining it to friends.) The work isn't about the historical truth, but just knowing when and where we are helps an audience to stop looking for those clues and relax into the real truth of the work.

Much of it's truth – historical and emotional – is in the remarkable libretto by Alice Goodman, which is readable by itself. A lot of her libretto is based on transcripts, so it's easy to think that it's what really happened, but she also researched widely, from Nixon's personal letters to the insomnia that plagued Chou En-Lai, and this knowledge adds such a strong reality to piece that even the imagined scenes feel like they must be real. The genius of the work is that it takes us from what the world saw into the heads and hearts of the characters. This lets Nixon and co sing what they actually said, while we also hear what they may have been thinking.

Act I's three scenes open on an empty airfield outside Peking where a chorus of Red Army Guards recite from Mao's Red Book and build into a glorious crescendo of anticipation as the plane lands and Nixon appears at the door to wave and create one of the most iconic images of 1972 and his presidency. This act is based on the first day in China, taking the president from his airport meeting with Premier Chou En-lai to a meeting with Mao and ending with a banquet toasting peace and everything else as the drinks keep flowing.

Act II's two scenes begins with Pat's visits to hospitals, factories and schools and ends with a performance of a revolutionary ballet devised by Chiang Ch'ing. As the story moves from the international and political to the social, Pat becomes more and more enamoured by China until she's shattered by the images and attitudes of the ballet and Madame Mao.

Act III's one scene is the last day of the visit and is a complete imagining by the composer and librettist that moves into the private rooms and imagined thoughts of the characters.

But the history and story of the piece are not what make it so amazing. After all, this is an opera and Adams's composition is unforgettable. I don't know enough about music to explain why his music works, but I know that it's full of conflict and discord and confusion that lets you feel the emotions of the characters, and when it comes together in harmony, you can't help but soar with it.

And great composition needs great musicians and singers. Conductor Fabian Russell creates a sound that celebrates and understands the role of every note and it's ridiculous to even consider faulting the cast who have created their characters from the music rather than the recorded historical personas.

Andrew Collis's Kissinger knows he'll never be the centre of attention, even if he's the most worthy. Mao's trio of secretaries (Sally-Anne Russell, Dimity Shepherd and Emily Bauer-Jones) support their emperor in public, but know he's a just a man, as Bradley Daley lets Mao be a weakening man trying to hold onto his greater-than-life image.  And his wife, Eva Jinhee Konh, is angry and determined and her coloratura aria, "I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung", almost steals the show. (A friend of mine saying that she must have sung an H.)

Then there's the lyric soprano of Tiffany Speight as Pat Nixon, who brings a sympathy and reality to Pat that's heartwarming and painful. And Christopher Tonkin has a similar approach to Chou En-lai, as a man who knows he'll be forgotten by history and can see the myth making going on around him (and has a tone to his voice that makes me want to hear a lot more of him).

Finally, there's Barry Ryan as Nixon. If you've heard James Maddalena sing Nixon (he created the role and has sung it all over the world), it's hard to imagine anyone else as Nixon – until Barry Ryan opens his mouth. His Nixon is bold and nervous and hides his fears as he's privately overwhelmed. It's a stunning performance.

There are only four performances of Nixon in China. Two have gone, but there's still Tuesday and Thursday this week. It's sad to think that there are so few performances, but I like to think that it's made enough impact to ensure that it's seen again.

And while you book for Nixon, get your tickets for Opera Victoria's next show. On 20 June Sunday in the Park with George opens. Sondheim fans are squealing with joy and so should everyone else because this is one of Sondheim's best works and if we can trust this company with John Adams, we can trust them with Sondheim. And let's hope that there's more of both composers in future programs. I don't think we've had a Dr Atomic (Adams) in Australia and I wasn't living in Melbourne when Roger Hodgman directed A Little Night Music (Sondheim) for the MTC, so it must be time to let him do it again.

This was on AussieTheatre.com

20 May 2013

On Writing: Jane Miller

True Love Travels on a Gravel Road
fortyfive downstairs

In the first of a series with writers, Jane Miller talks about True Love Travels on a Gravel Road (which I'm seeing alter this week).

What made you want to write this play?
I was asked to write a piece for the National Theatre Drama School and started working on a few scenes. Unfortunately work commitments meant I couldn’t pursue the opportunity but I had written a scene between two guys on a street undertaking a business transaction with a dog barking continually and interrupting them. The rest of the play evolved from my curiosity about that transaction.

How long did it take you to write it/how many drafts?
I wrote the first scene in 2009 and finished the first draft in January 2011. I kept leaving it and coming back to it in between other projects but once I finished the complete first draft, I worked on it consistently through the readings and The R E Ross Trust Development process. We are rehearsing version 16.

Is there a character you relate strongly to?
All of them. They all have something in them that I love even when they do things I don’t understand. My characters are never directly based on myself or people I know, but they all have different little pieces of me in them.

Can you remember where you were when Elvis died?
Sadly yes, which puts me in a demographic minority in this production! I was very young and watching the Early Bird Show before school when they announced it on the news.

What’s your favourite Elvis song?
“Kentucky Rain” and “True Love Travels on a Gravel Road”, of course.

Where’s your Graceland?
New York. It is just the best place to go for a holiday and I always bring home stacks of plays from The Drama Bookshop.

What’s it like working closely with director, Beng Oh?
An absolute pleasure.  It is a collaboration that we didn’t plan but, for me in particular, has been incredibly significant. I appreciate his honesty, his eye for detail and his ability to see the possibilities for a text even as a first draft. Beng has great judgement, which I trust completely, and I have learned a huge amount about how plays work on stage working with him. He is very open to having me attend rehearsals, which is a wonderful for me as a writer because I don’t think I fully understand my work until I see it in the hands of actors and a director.  As a theatre goer, I am always excited to see what he does next and can’t wait for his production at La Mama in August of George Tabori’s Mein Kempf.

Who wins if you disagree?
The art wins.

Can you remember when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
High School. We had a fully equipped theatre and I knew I loved drama, but also knew I wasn’t an actor.

What other writing do you do? 
Not much really apart from my day job.

What playwright do you read when you need inspiration?
Sam Shepherd, Tracy Letts, Paula Vogel, Edward Albee, Sarah Kane and lots of others. I read a lot of plays. I also love hearing playwrights talk about their process.

Apart from plays, what else do you love reading?
Scandinavian murder mysteries. I absolutely love them and when Henning Mankell autographed one of his books for me at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival a few years ago I was wildly excited.

Any hints to over come writer’s block?
Read plays and see theatre. Whenever I go to the theatre, I feel absolutely inspired all over again by possibilities. Even if it is not a great play, there is something exciting about watching actors and a creative team that just makes me want to write.

What was the title of your first play?
It was actually a play I wrote in year 10 drama called Where There’s a Will… . It was a country house murder mystery. A couple of years later I co-wrote our Year 12 production, a western called Black Cactus and that is the one that confirmed my desire to write.

Do you ever hand write or is everything on screen?
Everything on computer….and Dropbox.

Do you keep a writer’s diary?
Not a diary, but I have a folder called BitsnPieces on my computer where I keep odds and ends.

How does it feel when you’re sitting in a theatre audience watching your play?
Terrifying and amazing. I see the play completely differently with an audience. I tend to go a lot during a run because I love what that experience teaches me about writing for both performance and an audience.

Do you have a writing routine?
Not enough of one. I try to write something every day, but I work full time so it is not always easy to be disciplined when I get home.

Are you an early-morning or a late-night writer?
Late night.

Who do you go to for feedback about your writing?
Beng is great about providing feedback and advice. I sent him True Love Travels as soon as the first draft was finished. I sometimes get my family and friends to read a draft but I really need to see actors read a piece to see what state it is in. The opportunities I had, starting off, with Short + Sweet, Melbourne Writers' Theatre and Crash Test Drama were brilliant for me and great places to meet actors, directors and other writers.

What’s one of your favourite quotes about writing?
I think it is attributed to Ernest Hemingway, “Write drunk, edit sober”. I like it not because I literally think it’s necessary to write in a constant state of inebriation but it captures the openness and freedom you need to give yourself when writing a first draft and the subsequent hard headed work of redrafting and editing.

Do you think actors and directors should be able to change something you’ve written? (Is the playwright always right?)
I am a big believer in the text serving the performance. It’s not a novel, so if it doesn’t work for the performance you can’t preserve it in stone. I have been very fortunate to sit in on rehearsals so I can make changes and rework things that are not working. My experience is that I am usually the one who wants to cut a line or change it and actors and directors will do their best to work with what you have provided. I appreciate a director flagging changes with me and I have usually been incredibly lucky with the directors I have worked with.

What advice can you give to emerging playwrights?
Write, read and see as many as plays as you can. Take your stuff to things like Cold Readings Series and Crash Test Drama and see actors read it.

What do you suggest emerging playwrights read?

Why do you write for the stage, instead of film, tv or novels?
I love actors. I also really enjoy seeing work engage with an audience. It is so immediate, which can be wonderful and scary.

Do you read your reviews?
I do, which is probably not the answer a writer is supposed to give.

What’s your advice on taking criticism?
It’s tough, but if it is constructive and well reasoned, you appreciate it and learn a lot from it. Sometimes the stuff that touches a nerve does so because it resonates with something you knew or suspected about the work. However, the other side of it is that art is subjective and in the eye of the beholder and you have to stay true to yourself and what you envisaged for the piece when you wrote it. Good criticism can really aid development but sometimes that can be with a bit of hindsight.

As a creator, you have to hand your characters over to actors so that they can live. When has an actor made one of your characters into something more than you imagined?
Every time they go on stage. The characters you give to actors are the starting point. The collaborative nature of theatre means that they always become more than you imagined. I learn new things about the six characters in True Love Travels every time I see a rehearsal.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

19 May 2013

Review: Legally Blonde, The Musical

Legally Blonde: The Musical
Howard Panter for the Ambassador Theatre Group & John Frost
11 May 2013
Princess Theatre
to September

Oh my god
Oh my god, you guys
I liked Legally Blonde
I was so surprised!
I really didn't think
it was going to be my kind of show
Oh My God!

Honesty, no one thought that I was going to like Legally Blonde: The Musical, least of all me – but how wrong we were!  It's a hoot and an utter delight from start to finish and no where near as airbrushed, Barbie-pink, teen and dumb as its marketing makes it out to be.

Elle Woods is a sorority sweetheart at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and heels-over-head in love with super spunk Warner. When Warner dumps her for not being serious, she decides that the only way she can get him back is by joining him at Harvard Law School. It takes some work, but she gets accepted, but is a pink-wearing beach-hanging rich girl from the west going to get along with the black-wearing scruffy intellects of the north-east?

I haven't seen the film, but am told that the musical takes a chunk from the original book by Amanda Brown. I don't care if it's not great or put in the "chick lit" (grrrrr) section of the book store, it's a book and when people read a book they like, they start reading more and society's intelligence goes up.

What makes the stage version such a joy is that it starts with a complex story and that all the cliched expectations of its story are shaken, tossed about, high-kicked and put back together in ways that celebrates the importance of being yourself. And what makes it stand out from some of our more recent commercial musical snores is a cast who are all playing the same show, enjoying themselves and daring the audience to not love it as much as they do.

Lucy Durack is Elle; she's wonderful and nothing like the Barbie princess on the posters. By finding her own balance between ditz and girly swat and by not being a cliche of either, her Elle is warm and loving and funny. I've since had a look at the film and Broadway Elles (I can't believe I grew up in a YouTube-less world) and Durack's bought enough originality to make Elle her own.

Which isn't to say that the rest of the cast are anything less. And I mean the human ones, as well as the dogs who deserve extra treats and tummy rubs for hitting their marks and being more disciplined than many human actors I've seen.

I saw David Harris in Miss Saigon in 2007 and knew he'd be one who'd make it because he brings emotion and guts to his characters. As scruffy intellect Emmet Forrest, he kicks spunky Warner (Rob Mills) away without trying too hard. And Mills is perfect as Warner, but needs to go deeper to give Warner an extra dimension and some sympathy.

Cameron Daddo is delightfully sleezy as Professor Callahan; Erika Heynatz is as tight as her amazing abs as the exercise queen accused of murdering her hubby, Brooke Wyndham; and Helen Dallimore as  Paulette, hairdresser and new bff to Elle, almost steals the show with a gorgeous performance that's so full of love that you want her to be your bff too.

So why did I think I wasn't going to like it? It's a film that just never made it into my DVD player (although that's about to change), but the marketing of this show makes it look like it's for brainless tweens who give each other snaps and want to be in a sorority, even if they don't understand that it means getting into uni (and – thank the gods – that we don't have them here). It's all pink and princessey and airbrushed to make Elle look plastic.

And Legally Blonde is not that! There's an audience out there who love scruffy intellects, despise pink, have no idea what "props" are and don't need an explanation of what a Rhodes scholar is in the program, but, they only see this show as piece of unworthy fluff. 

Legally Blonde is fluff, but it's more that expensive Iranian fairy floss than spun sugar on a stick. And, as the tickets aren't as bank-breaking as recent show, don't let the pink put you off!

(And if you're a student, there are special student rush prices: details on the Facebook page.)

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

Photos by Jeff Busby.

18 May 2013

Pozible campaign: Palace of the End

This is for the next show by Daniel Clarke (one of my super faves of 2012).

These campaigns let us show what kind of theatre we really want to see.

Mini review: One For The Ugly Girls

One For The Ugly Girls
La Mama
12 May 2013
La Mama Theatre and ONFG
to 19 May

This production of One For The Ugly Girls was a must-see at the Adelaide Fringe this year and has already added an extra show for its La Mama season. Ring La Mama now (9347 6142) to see if you can squeeze in before it finishes on Sunday.

A middle aged painter's wife died three months ago and he books a life model to use her as a trigger to paint one last perfect painting of his love before she fades from his memory. When Jade turns up, she's not at all what he was expecting.

I was a bit excited to read that Tahli Corin's script had been workshopped by Edward Albee and can see his influence in the confrontations. It's a terrific script, but is feels a bit over-written and distanced, and I'd like to have felt more rawness to bring us closer to the characters.

None of which makes it any less enjoyable as Syd Brisbane, Hannah Norris and Lori Bell bring the emotional reality and closeness to their characters that's not quite there in the script.

It's a work about our perceptions of beauty in art and women, with opportunities to question our own judgments about both. I also wonder what it would be like if the painter were played by a pin-up perfect man (not that you're not a spunk in your own way, Syd), but it's always curious when a not-so perfect man judges a naked woman.

Beat the Cheat video

Beat the Cheat
July 9–13
Melbourne Magic Festival.

Beat the Cheat is about games and swindles and magic, and with SM fave's Nicholas J Johnson (who's Today Tonight, Tomorrow the World was one of my favourite MICF shows) and Pop Up Player, Splendid Chap and uber nerd Ben McKenzie, you know it's going to be more fun than playing Words With Friends with weird strangers.

And if you're not convinced, watch this.

17 May 2013

Review: Insomnia Cat Came to Stay

Insomnia Cat Came to Stay
Quiet Little Fox
12 May 2013
Tower Theatre, Malthouse
to 18 May

If you too dream of sleep, there are two nights left to see the beautifully disturbing – and a bit too close for comfort – Insomnia Cat Came to Stay.

I've had a bad sleep week and when reviews slip away, it's because they're written in my head in the useless dark hours of sleeplessness and I've been too tired to get them into real words. I have ongoing sleep issues. "Issues" makes it sound like it's solvable and an inconvenience, but anyone who has seen dawn after hours of lying in bed knows the special hell of insomnia.

Insomnia Cat Came to Stay is Fleur Kilpatrick's response to 18 months of insomnia. Now let's make this clear, insomnia isn't "It was hard to get to sleep last night", it's "I didn't sleep" last night or the night before or the night before. We don't know why, but our bodies are designed to sleep for at least a third of our life and without this time, we break.

Fleur first performed her piece at the 2011 Melbourne Fringe, but for this season (that has already been loved in Perth and Adelaide), the gorgeous creative team of Danny Delahunty (director), Sarah Walker (designer), Thomas Russell (animator), Roderick Cairns (composer/arranger) are joined by performer Joanne Sutton.

Already bound in her white bed-seet world when we enter, Sutton's seems amiable and sweet, then the show starts and she's mesmerising and a little bit scary as she brings nights of sleeplessness to vivid, disturbing life that no amount of valerian can help.

She's too awake to sleep and too exhausted to function. With animations projected onto her bed sheets prison, it's like her dreams are crawling out of her head, without giving her the peace of sleeping through and forgetting them. As insomnia takes over her life, she gives it a name: her insomnia cat. It's a smelly moggy who just turns up and demands attention, but who hasn't learnt to love one of these unexpected friends.

Fleur's writing is lovely and captures her insomnia perfectly, but the biggest joy of this show is seeing how seamlessly the design, music and direction work with the actor and the writing to create something that's so much more than great words on paper.

Thanks to Facebook and Words With Friends, I know that I'm not the only person awake at 3 am. I'm lucky that I can make my own hours as a freelancer and can catch up on sleep when other people are at work. I have no idea how insomniacs function when they have to be at a desk by 9 am. If you've ever got a dirty look or a telling off for being late to work because just leaving the house was so hard that you don't know how you'll make it to lunch time, you must see this show.

Or just see it because it's beautiful.

Photo and trailer by Sarah Walker

16 May 2013

Nixon in China quickie

I'll get a proper review of Victorian Opera's Nixon in China up on the weekend (I'll try tomorrow, but it's very unlikely.)

But, if you're waiting to hear what the critics say: I say, hell yes!

Don't listen to the idiots who left after act one.

It's beautiful and I really loved it.

I admit that I was nervous. This is an opera that's as famous for its huge, elaborate and historically accurate set, as much as its music and the events it's based on; I couldn't imagine what a Nixon could be when it's created by a company who have about as much money to spend on the entire production as the Met spent on shoes and elephants for their 2011 production.

So Vic Opera went with a relatively simple set and focussed on costume. Act one takes place in front of a red curtain. By taking away the design that immediately places it and the audience in a specific time and place, it's a production based on the music and lyrics, which are now almost free from their historical constraints. (The opera is based on Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1972. It's so hard to even imagine that 40 years ago one fifth of the world's population were still a mystery to us; I can only compare it to meeting aliens today.)

What I really loved was seeing the principals develop their characters from the music, rather than from historical figures who are still in recent memory. And vocally, these are some of the best voices I've heard on Melbourne stages – and it's in Her Majesty's, so not sucked into oblivion by the horror  sound of the State.

If you don't know the work, have a read about it at victorianopera.com.au.

But remember that there are only three more performances: Saturday, Tuesday and next Thursday.

And remember that I loved the opera with the dancing sea weed.

Nixon in China opens tonight.

Victorian Opera's production of Nixon in China opens tonight.

One of my biggest theatre regrets was not seeing the original version (1987) at the Adelaide Festival in 1992. Maybe because I couldn't afford it, but more likely that I had yet to discover John Adams's music and Peter Sellars's direction; after all, who wants to see an opera about a politician getting out of a plane.

Then in 2011, the New York Metropolitan Opera got the 1987 gang back and filmed it for their HD series. Josephine Giles and I sat in the Nova cinema for four hours on a February morning  and watched production filmed in January.

It was as close as we could be to being there and it was unforgettable in a way that still tarnishes most opera that I've seen recently. Here's Josephine's review.

And here's a 2011 interview with Sellars and Adams.

1992 was also the year I didn't miss Einstein on the Beach and I'll be seeing it in the same theatre in July this year. If you're planning to go (details), you should see Nixon as well (details). Adams music is often dumped in the same minimalist category as Glass; they don't sound anything like each other, but if you like Glass, you may love Adams.

And even if Vic Opera don't reach the heights of the Met, this is still an incredible chance to see this work performed.

14 May 2013

Opening this week: True Love Travels on a Gravel Road

Jane Miller is of my favourite Melbourne playwrights. She's really only just started writing, but since first noticing her at Short and Sweet in 2007, she's written a pile of terrific short plays and her first full length play, Happily Ever After, was one of my favourite productions in 2010.

The premiere production of her second full-length play opens at fortyfivedownstairs on Thursday (previews on Wednesday). True Love Travels on a Gravel Road, which is also the name of an Elvis Presley song, was a recipient of the R E Ross Trust Playwrights' Script Development Award in 2011.

Described as a comedy about living the dream, it's about Jake, who has been patronised and pegged as the town “tard” all of his life, but when he falls in love with Maggie anything seems possible and making Maggie’s dream of escaping to Graceland becomes his quest.

After the success of Happily Ever After, Jane's again joined with Director Beng Oh and she says,"Beng challenges me in the best possible way – he is incredibly generous and open – and I trust his judgement as a director and dramaturge."

Beng says that Jane "has a brilliant ear for dialogue – the laughter in this work arises from the choices, situations and language of the characters. She doesn’t dwell on their misery but you glimpse it and it grounds the comedy.”

The cast of True Love Travels on a Gravel Road are Chris Broadstock, Marnie Gibson, Emily Goddard, David Kambouris, Elizabeth McColl and Glenn van Oosterom

Booking details. And remember that most shows at fortyfivedownstairs sell out, so best to book now.

12 May 2013

Mini review: The Tall Man

The Tall Man
La Mama
5 May 2013
La Mama theatre
to 5 May 2013

I think Leticia Caceres is my new favourite director this year. After her gorgeous Constellations at the MTC earlier this year, she's directed Tall Man at La Mama, which sold out and I only managed to see it on its last day because of an extra performance.

She also had a stunner of a script to work with. Angela Betzien tells a heartfelt and honest story about an estranged family that reflects the environmental damage of open cut mines and the destruction of a mining town and society. She made the big picture personal and the result is beautiful and painful. I especially loved how she planted backstory and just let it sit without dominating the now of their tale.

And Hayden Spencer and Louise Brehmer as the too-damaged father and daughter were the perfect cast.

I'm sure we'll see this one again.

Mini review: Dance of Death

Dance of Death
Malthouse Theatre
5 May 2013
Beckett Theatre
to 19 May

As Dance of Death was made by some of my favourite creators, I think it's best that I just say that I'm glad this wasn't my introduction to any of their work.

This work tries to show just how clever and smart its makers are. And it does; they are amazing creators and it's a fine looking show, but the story gets so lost in the being clever that there's nothing and no one to care about. What starts off as a fascinating angry style and tone doesn't change; the end is played from the start and the rest is stuck in a mid-ground that doesn't have the heart to pull us through the story or the distance to let us not want to care and just enjoy the spectacle.

As a well-read smart arse, I understood the cleverness and the reflection of Durrenmatt's reflection of Strinberg, but I wonder if it would make much sense without an understanding of the context.

Legally Blonde quickie

So who would have thought that I was going to love Legally Blonde!

11 May 2013

Review: Scarborough

The Honeytrap
10 May 2013
Brunswick Arts Space
to 18 May

Another new company, another hidden warehouse space and another independent show that's more engaging than anything on our commercial stages this week.

The Honeytrap are a new independent theatre company formed by Melbourne-based creators Loren de Jong Debbie Zukerman, Kasey Gambling, Joanne Redfearn and Celeste Markwell. They've been working together since 2006, formed the company last year and helped to fund their second show, Scarborough, with a Pozible crowd sourcing campaign.

They've also all studied the Meisner method with Wendy Ward and the show has similarities with Ward Theatre's A Death in the Family currently in a warehouse on another side of the city – starting with it being a surprisingly powerful and fascinating piece of theatre with beautifully honest performances.

The Brunswick Arts Space is in a tiny back alley behind Sydney Road and the noise from the back of the shops adds to the atmosphere of being in a tacky seaside hotel room (designed perfectly by Casey-Scott Corless with costumes by Nicholas Mackinnon). The uneasy floor is covered with sand and the audience have no where to hide, sitting on all sides of the square room.

A 30-year-old teacher (Redfearn) is having a relationship with one of her 15-year-old students (Matthew Connell). To celebrate his 16th birthday – it's not statutory rape once they're 16 – she's booked a room in seaside Scarborough, but as he gets ready for a night on the town, she says she wants to stay in.

Directors De Jong and Markwell focus on how the characters see the relationship and its subtle power shifts. And as they are all somewhere between 15 and 30, they bring an emotional empathy to each character that frees the audience to make their own judgements – which are much harder to make when you're watching the character's most private and honest moments.

And if you dare think it's easier to watch because the student is a male, the play is repeated (almost verbatim) with a male teacher (Doug Lyons) and female student (Libby Brockman). Knowing what's coming takes nothing away from the work and allows for re-thinks that focus less on gender.

This play by UK writer Fiona Evans was a hit at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe when it was just the first couple, but doubled its length at its London season by introducing the repetition; a bloody good choice.

I suggest seeing Scarborough in tandem with How I Learned to Drive (playing a few 100 metres away at the Mechanics Institute) that has a hotel room scene with an uncle celebrating his niece's adult birthday. And if you like the style of Scarborough, head to Footscray for A Death in the Family. As a southern baysider who had to drive across town to all of these venues,  it's easy to park and well worth the time spent in the car (or it's easy to PT it to Brunswick).

Meanwhile, The Honeytrap has caught some attention with this show and it's going to be exciting and interesting to see where they go from here.

Review: How I Learned to Drive

How I Learned to Drive
Mockingbird Theatre
3 May 2013
Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre
to 18 May

How I Learned to Drive won writer Paula Vogel the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1988. If you want to learn about American theatre, the list of Pulitzer winners is a fine place to start. This is a beautifully written work about a harrowing subject that finds a sympathy and forgiveness that's as uncomfortable as its subject.

Director Chris Baldock's new independent company Mockingbird Theatre are continuing to bring famous contemporary scripts to audiences who already love the works and introducing some incredible writers to new audiences. Last year we saw The Laramie Project and can look forward to Equus and Kiss of the Spiderwoman later this year.

One of my regular theatre cohorts at the opening of How I Learned to Drive started a convesation about whether shows should have trigger warnings. It's an argument that can't be answered easily and perhaps the poster shouldn't be running with "wildly funny" as its lead. I'm not a fan of the trigger warning trend; I think they encourage more people to read/watch something because it's juicy than save people from content they would rather miss. If you don't know, this play's about the sexual abuse of a child by her uncle.

Set in the 60s and 70s, L'il Bit (Sarah Reuben, who was also in The Laramie Project) remembers her relationship with Uncle Peck (Jason Cavanagh). It would be comfortable to see her as all innocence and him as all evil, but what makes this work so disturbing is its gut-wrenching honest exploration of a man who believes he's in love with a child and a child who believes she's helping her uncle. As we ask what her life would have been like without Uncle Peck, the moral lines are blurred and re-established and for all its uncomfortable honesty, it's its forgiveness that stays with you.

Cavanagh's Uncle Peck is the character you can't take your attention away from. It would be easy to play him as a pervy creep. It would also be easier to watch. But Uncle Peck is a likable, ordinary man. We know his behaviour is despicable, but Cavanagh lets us into Peck's mind and the most disturbing part of this work is feeling sympathy for a man who we think deserves no sympathy. After his performance in The Joy of Text at La Mama earlier in the year (heaps better that the MTC version) and his ongoing work in making The Owl and the Pussycat a new favourite indie venue, 2013 is looking to be a terrific year for him.

Reuben's L'il Bit is emotionally spot on in her relationship with Peck – he is the only person who treats her as an adult worth listening to, but it's only as an adult that she begins to understand the relationship – but her performance felt too memorised and I could see a bit of the adult actor stopping L'il But from feeling in control. The power of this work is in letting go of our understanding of the situation and in letting all of the characters feel in control, and I suspect that with a few shows over that Reuben's performance is now soaring.

Andrea McCannon, Juliet Hindmarsh and Sebastian Bertoli play the rest of the family and society who turn a blind eye (McCannon as Peck's wife and L'il Bit's mum is especially good). They are a kind of chorus, but their strength comes from their not seeing what the audience sees; through them we see how easy it is to miss or avoid seeing the obvious.

I've seen How I Learned to Drive before and I'll see it again. It's a stunning work that's uncomfortable  and uncomfortably liberating to watch and Baldock's production is one that'll stay with you long after you've left the theatre.

This production is supporting Child Wise, Australia’s leading international child protection charity committed to the prevention and reduction of sexual abuse and exploitation of children around the world.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

10 May 2013

Re-visit: No Child...

No Child...
Theatre Works
7 May 2013
Theatre Works
to 26 May

No Child... sold out at last year's Melbourne International Arts Festival. Melbourne's arts community loved this show so much that the lovely people at Theatre Works have brought the inspirational and very lovely Nilaja Sun back to Melbourne and have already had to extend the season. Don't miss out this time!

The good news is that there are tickets available for later in the season, but you probably won't be able to squeeze in this weekend.

I saw it for the second time and enjoyed it even more than the first time (review). Being in the Theatre Works space is more intimate than the Fairfax and makes it feel like Nilaja is performing just for us, rather than doing a piece of capital T theatre.

No Child... is Nilaja's reaction to working as a teaching artist in New York's poorest schools. Her fictional Malcolm X High School in the Bronx is every school in the US where kids have to go through metal detectors to get to classes and aren't expected to make it to graduation. Her story includes teenagers for whom pregnancy and gang killings are a normal part of life. This is obscene. The richest country in our world can't look after its kids and educate them safely. And we certainly can't sit back and be content as our public school teachers are paid a pittance, schools are forever facing cuts and pressure is put on families to pay for their childrens' education.  This sucks. And then children are blamed if they slip through the system. We are failing as a society when any child misses out on a basic, safe and exciting education.

But this isn't a story about how an education system fails, it's about how to triumph within a system and how to teach when your class doesn't want to be there. Made with love for every student, teacher and their families, it's about people who care and people who know that all children need to feel valued.

Nilaja plays every role, including the janitor who's been at the school since the 60s, a new teacher who gave up a financial job to teach, the teenagers in the class and herself. Directed by Hal Brooks, she's been performing it since 2006 and every season has been greeted with critical gushing and audiences who want to come back for more.

It's an astonishing performance that leaves you unable to walk away uninspired, whether you're a teacher, a student, a performer, a writer, a theatre maker or anyone who has children and teenagers in your life.

It's selling our because it's THAT good. Book now before everyone books to see it again.

08 May 2013

Review: True Minds

True Minds
Melbourne Theatre Company
29 April 2013
The Sumner
to 8 June

I'll always see a new Joanna Murray-Smith play. She's one of Melbourne's most commercially successful playwrights and she writes terrific jokes about being middle class in Melbourne. Her latest, True Minds at the MTC,  is the theatrical equivalent of a black-and-white romcom that you're happy to watch every time it's repeated on the ABC because it's an easy giggle with some terrific performances.

Daisy (Nikki Shiels) lives in her enviable converted warehouse with a collection of giraffe knick-knacks. She's written a commercially successful book about how men need their mum's approval before they choose the girl of their dreams. It's a bit of a surprise, as neither of her leftie parents – mum (Genevieve Morris) is into beyond-alternative medicine and young men, dad (Alex Menglet) is a drunken academic and philanderer – are into marriage and her last beau (Adam Murphy) is in rehab. But love is strange and Daisy's fallen for the most conservative hunk in town (Matthew McFarlane) and is preparing to meet is his mummy (Louise Silversen), who would call Julie Bishop a raving liberal Liberal. As Dasiy gets the dips ready, there's a storm brewing outside and everyone ends up in her open plan living room.

For all the big laughs and performers who bring extra so much extra to their characters (it's worth seeing for the three women), there's not a second's doubt as to what's going to happen or an opportunity to wish for something different. Couldn't we even like the hunky fiance for a bit and understand why Daisy wants to marry him? The jokes are easy and obvious, the politics are duller than QandA, and the characters are so full of cliches that they become unrecognisable as real people. This leaves the audience safely distanced because there's little chance of really seeing theselves on the stage.

Peter Houghton had written/directed/performed some of our funniest theatre. He builds a manic world where the background action says as much as the script, but he seems to be pushing for True Minds to be farce. It's not extreme enough to be farce and the characters are too likeable to push them to farcical extremes. At the same time, there's not enough guts in the script for it to be social satire: conservative ladies in peach don't like gay marriage while young liberal lefties are all for it, some people are happy not to get married, and it's all about love at the end of the day. Really? There's so much more to explore. (And out of rehab and happily pouring booze all night without any of your loved ones keeping an eye on you?)

It's a funny and enjoyable show, but it's so safe that it's inoffensive and forgettable.

Photo by Jeff Busby.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

06 May 2013

Green Room Awards TONIGHT

It's the Green Room Awards ceremony tonight.

First awarded in 1993, Melbourne's Green Room Awards are peer-assessed awards chosen by panels including practitioners, educators and media.

And there are tickets available at the door if you want to come along.

7 pm start at the Comedy Theatre in Exhibition Street.

I didn't see a lot of the nominated shows, so I'm not going to pick favourites.

The nominations are here.

Review: About Tommy

About Tommy
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
28 April 2013
Red Stitch Theatre
to 25 May

When the techie has to start the applause at the end of a show, you know it wasn't a good night. I missed the super supportive opening night of Red Stitch's About Tommy, so saw it with regular punters and it was one of those nights when something was missing.

About Tommy is by Norwegian writer Thor Bjorn Krebs and was first performed in Copenhagen in 2003. The English translation by David Duchin has been seen in the UK and is premiered in Australia by Red Stitch. Based on the real experiences of young Danish UN Peace Keepers in Zagreb in the 90s – Norway has voluntary military service and its military are active in UN operations – it's partly verbatim and documentary-style theatre, but is given enough fiction to create a compelling story.

Director Kat Henry immediately places it as a story for us by not using accents despite its being in a specific time and place. If only more directors thought this way. Maybe the choice was made so that they didn't sound like the Sweedish chef on the Muppets (I know they are different countries), but maybe it was made because accents are just annoying and take away from the truth of a work.

The time and place comes from Hanna Sandgern's design. She uses the small space inventively and has projections that create both space and intimacy. A TV set is front and centre and plays footage from the city at war. This is a war that most saw through televisions and it brings a reality to the stage, but I couldn't see it. I was one seat away from the aisle and am tall enough to see over the people in front of me and I couldn't see the central design element of the piece. I don't understand why anyone would place something so vital to the emotional impact of overall work in a position where huge chunks of the audience won't be able to see it. Even if there's nothing important on the screen, you want to see what you can't see and this kind of distraction takes away from the performers.

Matthew Whitty is Tommy, who's excited to go and do good with the UN but is gradually broken when faced with the reality of watching unnecessary death and the restrictions of the force's the self-defence code. Kate Cole and Paul Henri are his friends and fellow soldiers in Zagreb, his parents who are proud to let him go and others needed. Whitty captures the enthusiasm and frustration of a young man who saw too much, Henri's ideal as Tommy's best mate and Cole is especially engaging as the women in Tommy's life.

But I wasn't the only person who didn't realise that the show was over when it ended. There was something distancing the work from the audience. For me, there wasn't an emotional connection in the performances; I couldn't see that connection to self that makes even something out of a performer's life experience feel real. For all the trying to make it our story, it was still a story about "them". We don't go to the theatre to admire actors, we go to be told a story and the story got lost the night I saw About Tommy.

This was on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by Jodie Hutchinson

03 May 2013

It's Booktown weekend

It's Booktown at Clunes this weekend.

If you still have over flowing bookcases and love getting a paper cut from a beloved novel, you must visit Booktown.

It's a 90-minute drive to Clunes (near Ballarat) and for this weekend, the tiny town is filled with books. Literally! A walk down the main street will take hours even if you just have a quick browse at every book shop or stall; even longer if you stop for snacks.

And there are workshops and talks by writers like Kate Grenville, Hazel Edwards and Anne Summers. And  program just for children.

The full program is  clunesbooktownfestival.com.au.

01 May 2013

Review: A Death in the Family

A Death in the Family
Ward Theatre Company
26 April 2013
Ward Theatre at Docklands Cotton Mills
to 25 May

I'd not heard of the Ward Theatre Company, but they sent me a snail mail invitation that had black butterflies on it, so I had to see them. If sending a cute invite was all it took me to see this show, let's hope that your reading of even this opening will make you see it.

A Death in the Family is company founder and director Wendy Ward's adaption of James Agee's autobiographical novel set in Tennessee in the 1915. Ward is from New York and came to Melbourne in 2010 on a Distinguished Talent visa.  Agee is best known for his film criticism and was nominated for an Academy award as co-writer of the screenplay for The African QueenA Death in the Family was published posthumously in 1957, after his death from a heart attack at 45, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1958.

Adapting novels for stage is very tricky. If a work of art is perfect in itself, adaption means losing much of what makes it so loved. What's so remarkable about this adaptation is that it feels like a novel, with its slabs of narration, but still feels like it was born in a theatre. It's a bit like film with its close focus on character and naturalistic performances, but the direct narration, multi-level space and live music (Helena Plazzer and Emma McKay) ensures that it's a living and peresonal experience.

As narrator Agee, Soren Jensen sets the gentle and loving tone and makes it feel like the author's in the room and telling his story exactly how he remembers it. The intimacy is forced with only 20 seats in the venue  –  a converted warehouse is the gorgeous Cotton Mills community in Footscray (it's worth going just to visit this space) – but it's never uncomfortable, and with no contact from the other performers, it welcomes a closeness that doesn't have the awkwardness of people being watched.

It's a loving and sad story, but what makes it so exquisite is the performances. Although not in style or theme, they reminded me of the performances seen in Mike Leigh's films, which come from no script and weeks of character development and improvisation. Ward uses theatre's Meisner technique, which is based on improvising to bring emotional reality to a text. Each of the actors, Jensen, Darren Mort, Lee McCenaghan, Petra Glieson and Andrew McPhedran, never show they're acting; they listen and react to those around them and show how much they are completely invested in their characters when they're not speaking.  Keep an eye on Jensen during the car scene and Glieson in a kitchen table scene near the end of the second half.

Even though they run until 25 May, there really are are only 20 seats in the theatre, so please book so you don't miss out. I can see this work transferring to bigger venues, but the small audience lets it feel like they are there for you alone.

If I'd known it were two-plus hours, an American story with accents and slabs of narration in an inescapable venue, I may not have gone. If you hear this, don't let pre-conceptions put you off. This is a remarkable theatre experience.

This was on AussieTheatre.com