FOUR DOGS AND A BONE

Synopsis: Brenda, a seemingly guileless young actress, meets with Bradley, a troubled, middle-aged producer to discuss the film on which they are working. Brenda wants to be a star, she even chants for it! But Collette, the other actress in the film, is in her way. Both Brenda and Bradley want to make changes to the film and cunningly work together to get their way.

Meanwhile, Collette has her own agenda: She knows she is not as young as she once was and tries to convince writer, Victor, to alter the film so she can be heroine. Then there is Victor, a naïve young writer from Off-Off Broadway who doesn’t know how to handle any of this, and his mother just died….

Through cat fights and mock bonding these backstabbing stars cause confrontations over the state of the film. All the lies and backbiting are exposed as these four dogs go after their bone.

Review: I don’t know what it was about ‘Four Dogs and a Bone’ that I didn’t like. I attended the first preview night and saw it last night also and my thoughts were much the same. I concluded that I just didn’t care for the writing, or thought much of the characters. I didn’t find it particularly funny, though majority of the audience did. So in this case it’s not whether the show was good or bad I just didn’t like anything about the story. It felt dated and quite frankly uninteresting and done. Regardless, my review can’t be based on my personal taste of the show, as a reviewer I think personal taste should be an element but primarily how the production was put together is what should be reviewed. So here goes.

Kate Gaul, is one of Sydney’s best known directors, her reputation proceeds her. Gaul took the stripped back approach with this play leaving the entire stage for her actors to showcase themselves through the writing. This choice is fine in itself if the casted actors have the correct measure of charisma and personality that these roles require. Though Gaul has casted some talented actors I’m not sure if they were the overall best selection for this production.

Amanda Collins plays Collette, the apparent ageing broadway star. Collins for one is far from ageing and though her performance was strong and at times comical, it felt stretched. The comedy lost on her youth. It was like trying to watch a 26 year old play Velma Kelly, I just didn’t believe that she had that wealth of life experience behind her to back up her current desperate scenario. Collins is a committed actor but she wasn’t right for the part.

Melinda Dransfield plays Brenda, the young aspiring actress who is trying to chant and lie her way to the top. Dransfield like Collins gave a strong performance. Her comic timing was commendable and her character was so odd, she had plenty to work with. Dransfield gave an enjoyable performance to an eccentric role.

Paul Gerrard plays Victor, the writer. Gerrard was the strongest choice out of all who were cast, he’s the only one who I felt had some real-life collateral behind him. Gerrard presented a worn out confused writer well, his delivery was palatable and had a raw edge to it which made him fun to watch.

Sonny Vrebrac plays, Bradley the producer. Vrebrac had a confidence that was very American and true to his character, holding nothing back he gave his all to the audience.

‘Four Dogs and a Bone’ is an American comedy…If you enjoy slap stick humour with a dash of ‘Days of Our Lives’ you will probably enjoy this production.

On at the Old Fitzroy, SITCO stage until the 27th of September

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JENNIFER FOREVER

Synopsis/note from the director: Jennifer Forever, is about that very grey area between right and wrong. That area we sometimes wish didn’t exist for the simplicity of knowing exactly which side of the fence we’re on. It asks some questions to which I am sure there are many correct answers. But in all of this, right or wrong, I wonder…is there room for pity and understanding?

Review: ‘Jennifer Forever’ is Tara Clarks’ directing debut. She is also the playwright for this thought-provoking piece of theatre, such a bold and brave accomplishment that she has under taken. Being an actor is scary enough, being a director is momentous and has its ever evolving challenges but to also direct your own penned play is a very vulnerable position to be in. Clarks’ choice of subject matter indeed, I am sure would have had her nervous. I for one was! Watching the manifestation of these two complex characters unfold was curious and at times nail-biting and uncomfortable to witness.

Two characters simply named Man and Girl both leading lives society wouldn’t be able to help but be judgmental of. The subject matter of pedophilia the high topic of the play, questions of nature versus nurture. The complex study of the animal kingdom and their sexual rituals focal points, which Clark cleverly intertwined into her male character through his occupation as a high school biology teacher. The questions Clark has raised are a more subjective series of questions about the genetic makeup of the human being compared to the animal kingdom and instinct. Should we be exempt of natures natural way of being? Of course when it comes to the protection of the innocent from predators there is no question the human condition calls for protection of these innocents. We as a society so easily ostracize those we do not understand whom perhaps (a question raised in ‘Jennifer Forever’) is due to the genetic makeup of the individual, their wiring. I saw a film many years ago starring Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick that was of a very similar premise as Clarks script. It was called ‘The Woodsman’, about a convicted child molester returning to society after serving a ten-year sentence. It was, like Jennifer Forever an insightful and uncomfortable insight into the life of a man who despite himself was a good man who despised his desires cursing his attraction to young children. A more sympathetic view of an unwanted addiction that has no toleration from first world law and society. It did make me re-think (‘Jennifer Forever’ reminding me) that we so easily judge the crimes of others without perhaps taking into account the living nightmare these people must face. We should never excuse those who act on their compulsions but do we consider the many paedophiles who do everything in their power to not, who create a world where they can control themselves and never act out their desires. There are wars within humans, behind closed doors we will never know about as they silently battle alone. What for those people, help for them before it’s too late?

However you feel about these topics will indeed affect your response to Jennifer Forever. Clark has managed to bring the topics to a digestible level textually and through her direction. It’s not all heavy-handed, humour comes into play periodically creating a certain lightness about the characters which had the audience laughing often.

In regards to the script I would have to say that there was a point where I could have happily seen the show end on a question from the Man character. In fact, leaving audiences with questions of the possible is often more interesting than putting the characters in tied-up conclusions. ‘Jennifer Forever’ ends in quite an unexpected way, which I think overall took away some of the works gained momentum and strength. It would have been stronger and more interesting to leave questions with questions. I believe this would have been a more supportive ending to the purpose of the work, exploring those grey areas. I did find the ending more melodramatic than needed.

Clark has cast wonderfully with her choice of Dominic McDonald playing Man and Gemma Scoble as Girl. McDonald portrayed a struggling school teacher with tremendous naturalism and skill. He showed great degrees of internal struggle, with an almost ying-yang approach in his physicality revealing the good and the evil in the man through effortless transition.

Gemma Scoble as Girl was charming and controlled through out her performance. Revealing her characters surprises with effortless humour and comfort. A delightful performer who did a great deal of listening, giving and taking that propelled both performers to their characters conclusion.

Jennifer Forever is not for the theatre goers who want a feel good giggly night out. Jennifer Forever is for those who wish to stretch their way of thinking and be more open to approaching societies “rotten apples” with a new set of eyes. Should we show more understanding? Or should we continue to push the lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key method? I for one am a strong supporter of children’s protection and rights, naturally I would favour the latter, like most would. Jennifer Forever proposes that it’s not so black and white and we should consider that there is shades of grey we should consider before throwing away the key for good.

‘Jennifer Forever’ by Two Peas, is on at the quirkiest theatre venue in Sydney, Theatre 505 until the 28th of September for this years Sydney Fringe.

EUROPE

Synopsis: When Douglas meets Barbara – a European actress touring Australia – he is stung by the romance of their fling, like the heroes of the oldest love stories. He pursues her, flying to Europe in a 10 000 mile leap of faith, but Barbara is wary of this naïve Australian fan-boy and she has love problems of her own.

Review: The Reginald season has done it again with another wonderful play by Michael Gow. A story written with tongue in cheek humour and comical twists of both the political and theatrical kind. Europe was written in 1987, I don’t know whether it’s purely timeless or terrifying that Australian society sounds very much the same, as does the European. This play could have been written yesterday and I wouldn’t have questioned it. Douglas’s opinions of Barbara still ring like a song out of those babes of 1987 who are now in their 30’s. Those 80’s adults now in their 60’s haven’t changed their tune either about Australian independence and views on the mother land/s.

The love story between Barbara and Douglas is a cringe worthy unfolding. I mean, we’ve all been there right?…Flying across the ocean somewhere to declare love to someone…Fantastical hopes and dreams of a life with another, haven’t we? Doesn’t have to be a literal ocean of course, it takes an ocean of courage with a puppy dog called ‘fear of rejection’ tagging along for the walk to that special someone down the street or a nearby suburb. Just around the corner or a country far away the journey of the heart is the same.

Pippa Grandison, delivered a strong-headed, hilarious Barbara. Her emotional range was as beautiful as the glimpses of her singing abilities. A veteran to the big Australian and touring stages she performed to every corner of the quaint Reginald theatre with every twitch of her eyebrow and biting of the lip and those eyes, pure story tellers. A gripping performer in every sense of the word, she had you at ‘Hello so to speak. In this case staggering through a beam of light and bellowing stage smoke, it was quite the entrance, in fact also quite the exit. Grandison’s comical timing and rhythm were delicious, her commitment like a nail gun was precise and effective to her characters plight and journey

Andrew Henry, managed to deliver with style his heart-on-his-sleeve character Douglas with such a sympathetic veil it erased any notion of creepy into a romantic gesture of sorts. Henry presented a sweet, funny, awkward character providing a stark contrast to the bold and expressive (Russian I’ve decided) Barbara. His expressions and movements were laced with priceless dry humour. The silences provided were filled with tiny indications of thought, his hopes slipping from his face on discovery of the reality that surrounds him. An endearing performance by Henry

Director James Beach, has taken some quirky ideas to add to the comedy of this work. Some had the audience clapping with delight at his choices. And some were a little bit over indulgent. The smoke machine, though at times used successfully to support the comedy, more often than not got a little out of control hindering the narrative. In the climatic scene of the play having the two characters in a church, battling out how they feel with emotions flying. Demanded like a Catholic church does, stillness and focus. The distraction of billows of stage smoke did not allow for this. This instead created an almost unwanted third member of the cast. A few staging decisions were un-clear, the main one being a back pack floating down from the ceiling, felt a little bit like a half executed idea.
Despite this Beach’s directing in regards to his actors has a bold sense of nurture and tenderness with a huge emphasis on fun and not taking yourself too seriously. This play could have been pushed to represent the seriously heavy undertones with in the text and within the silences. Instead Beach has chosen to focus on the lightness, making this night out to the theatre an enjoyable celebratory experience. Love can be a harsh beast but it can also be bloody awkward and hilarious. These are all elements Beach has given the platform to and with great success. Those choices were huggable!

A big round of applause to designer Andrea Espinoza for her versatile and beautiful set and costumes and two thumbs up to lighting designer Benjamin Brockman for his immersive mood lighting and projections.

EUROPE as part of the Seymours’ Reginald is running until the 27th of September

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DANCE BITES 2014

DANCE BITES 2014 consists of three works. SAFE HANDS by Miranda Wheen, BETWEEN TWO AND ZERO by Matt Cornell and Miranda Wheen and SKETCH by Flatline.

Just as experimental as this group of arts evolutionists, I too have decided to write my review in a similar manner. I’m not going to try and categorise or “sum up” this production trio. Instead write down words for each of the above works and let you use your imagination as to wether by my nouns, pronouns and descriptions wether you would wish to immerse yourself in Dance Bites 2014.

SAFE HANDS, man on mission, heart bleeds, caves, slinky, galant, grave, emotion, beep, seller, soft, quirky, quick, sprite, improvised, free, rule-less, sweat, breath, pale, synergy, kinetic, pop, rest, crane, tactile, shaped rave for one.

BETWEEN TWO AND ZERO, connected, married, equal, spiral, love-making, decide, brake, push, live, fly, hold, mould, brisk, risk, tap, speed, swirl, twirl, catch, snatch, seat, sleek, strut, fun, lines, skin, give, take, make, break. Roll, far, team, warm, action pinching, passion, folds of nerves, blanket, trip, trick, no body puts baby in the corner.

SKETCH, modern, school, heads of spaghetti, lamas in hats, coloured feelings, TV streaming, experimental feeling, fingers, pencils, cartoon, itchy, psychology, body poking, high end finding, glass ceiling climbing, museum culture, paint by feelings, motion rearing, 3D painting, time erasing, pattern savvy, expression mission, pupil twitching, crayola on acid, rewinding.

Get your brain gears grinding in the experimental!

DANCE BITES 2014 is on at Riverside Parramatta 11-13th September

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