RIDE & FOURPLAY

Darlinghurst Theatre Co/ Eternity Playhouse

4 Sep – 4 Oct

Plays by Jane Bodie

Directed By Anthony Skuse

Photo credit – Robert Catto

Performed by Tom O’Sullivan, Emma Palmer, Aaron Glenane, Gabrielle Scawthorn

Synopsis thoughts from the programmes Director’s Notes –

Both plays are concerned with how we negotiate relationships, how we use those relationships to garner a sense of identity. They are all striving to be the best versions of themselves as they dance around each other. Most of the time authenticity eludes them as they perform compromised versions of themselves.

Review –

You know the saying, ‘Save the best ’till last?’ it’s a common and well used phrase for a myriad of possible excitable notions towards the expectation of something delicious, fun, or just plain old school fantastic. When leaving the Eternity Playhouse, mentally and mind fully chewing on the rather unctuous amount of theatre I had witnessed in playwright Jane Bodie’s paired up play’s Ride & Fourplay. My first impulsive thoughts don’t often make the first paragraph in my final draft, but as I stepped out into the night air, my first thought stuck like super glue to skin and that is, ‘I can not leave the best till last.’ I have to talk about THAT straight way!’ I just can’t discuss these plays in chronological order of appearance, I have to start talking about Fourplay, Ride won’t get as high an acclaim for reasons I will explain later in my review. But for now, I just can’t wait to discuss the second part of this theatre experience. So here goes.

Renown English theatre director Peter Brook wrote in the opening lines of his book ‘The Empty Space’, regarding the definition of theatre. I quote, “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” This was the very first thing I thought when Fourplay began. The simplistic, raked stage now striped of all its set dressing and naturalism from Ride leaving essentially (with a stylistic twist) an empty space, with two women and two men walking from corner to corner, past one another with sparse physical contact whilst thoroughly engaging their audience, hello minimalism, hello performer focused art, hello my kind of theatre. When I review a show, I am hugely interested in audience actor dynamics, how the audience engage mentally and emotionally by closely observing their physical engagement to what occurs on stage. Hooked, is the word to best describe the audience during Fourplay, hooked I was also, thrilled in fact that director Anthony Skuse chose to run with Bodie’s stage suggestion that this play can be played non naturalistically. It makes her strict note that characters Alice and Jack are to be played naturalistically throughout the work all the more poignant and powerful. Bodie’s mindfulness in regards to structure, form and manipulation of time (as mentioned by Skuse in his director’s notes) makes Fourplay a structural intrigue to watch and I can only assume an intriguing directing opportunity. Fourplay is LIVING proof that great writing can carry an audience from A-Z and on the edge of their seats with out the need to set design show-off, which has exhausted me this year and unimpressed me greatly by some of our prominent theatre companies. This coupled with a director with sound judgement, clear objectives and actors whom have encapsulated their characters beautifully thanks to a specific structural method in style and writing by Bodie, makes for a refreshing, gorgeous approach to theatre making that is foundationally built on equal respect for the written word and trust in director, actors and the creative body as a whole. This play speaks beyond the naturalistic situations of relationships and provides a much more diverse ratio of meaning. Simply, the lack of physical contact, eye contact and typical architectural flesh responses that were forced to be individual made for a much deeper exploration of self as a viewer. This restriction too I feel assisted the actors to not knee jerk react physically in response to each other, but instead instilled focus and purpose in their movement which made for a richer experience as an audience member. The disconnection from naturalism made the intimate moments that were purposefully naturalistic physically poetic. What we would consider a generic intimate response felt brand new because we were deprived of it consistently throughout. As Bodie even mentions out of the mouth of her character Natasha, ‘ There is nothing interesting about a love story. It’s been done to death’ What is interesting about Bodie’s writing and Skuse’s direction is that it is approached from a quirky angle and cleverly so. There is absolutely nothing in Fourplay we haven’t all seen before. In fact it is a cliche super nova in content, but in style and execution it feels as if we are being exposed to something brand new. I dare say, but with conviction that Fourplay is reminiscent of Pop Art. It is the everyday basics on display, the object itself is so common it’s almost invisible but the technique and approach towards it makes it somehow, fascinating, like we are seeing it for the first time.

Aaron Glenane who played Jack in Fourplay seemed right at home in this production, his performance was a stand out for me. Glenane has a naturalistic ability to physically express his character with no sense of striving or strain. Glenane produced a character that was likeable, humorous and most of all genuine. Glenane formed a quick and potent connection with his audience, a very talented performer, a craftsman in his field, I loved his performance. Gabrielle Scawthorn, as Alice gave a performance with her characters heart plucked, in hand and bleeding for all to see, she ebbed and flowed between heart ache, sarcasm and humour with breeze, beautifully and believable. Tom O’Sullivan, as Tom, wove for us a tapestry of a character full of bewilderment, lust, selfishness, little boy straits and elements of boy trying to be man. O’Sullivan is clearly a committed actor, and his performance reflected the at times tongue in cheek aspects of an actors process discussed in the writing and ran with it well. His times of stillness with in this piece though I felt could have been more complimentary by providing his audience with less of the ‘I-am-man-contemplating-my-fate-in-silence’ stance that took so much of his focus it felt forced most of the time, it felt like acting. More of nothing would have been preferred, not trying to be stillness. Just being stillness. Considering his character responses to questions thrown at him by Scawthorns’s character Alice felt reminiscent of Tony Abbott interviews, careless, flippant and inconsiderate to circumstance. I doubt much fluid thought went through his characters mind in silence either. It was as if O’Sullivan was trying to bring some nobility or pride to his character which felt against his characters nature and maturity level.  O’Sullivan though performed with tremendous gusto in Fourplay. Emma Palmer, played the ‘sassy’ flirtatious, confident, controlling character Natasha. Palmer exudes her natural confidence on stage as a performer. She brought a lot of fun and charisma making for a desired shift of feeling from heartbreak to, I don’t give a fuck I’ll do what I want. We all find ourselves there at some point, and it was fun to see this character played in this manner. Even when she was observing her fellow actors in her moments of solitude or stillness she retained this manner that was consistent of her character. Her expressions were a dialogue all on their own. Palmer’s character on paper comes across as rather unbearable at times, but Palmer avoided any eye-roll by playing Natasha with a self-confidence and assurance as an audience member you couldn’t argue with. Her choices were nonchalant, and care-free which made me as an audience member not to feel malice toward the archetype being played but instead accepting her for her archetype and letting it be, which assisted in enjoying her character instead of despising or brushing her off as a pretentious tart. Fourplay was just wonderful, worth sitting through Ride to get to it.

Ride, I’m not going to dive into this Bodie play nearly as much as I have with Fourplay, as it did very little for me. Two straight people drunk, with memory loss and emotional baggage, naked in a bed, wake up with hang overs galore, attempt to decode the night before and perhaps each others secrets. The given circumstances didn’t thrill me, and characters Elizabeth and Joe and all the talk of Marrickville/Tempe, known clubs, pubs of Kings Cross and Sydney didn’t engage me either. Though both Palmer as Elizabeth, and O’Sullivan as Joe both performed fine, it felt like the context didn’t particularly motivate them to any kind of performance beyond comfort, it felt safe. All I wanted to see happen was Elizabeth to leave Joe’s room. I didn’t feel like it was played out or written in a way strong enough to keep her in that room for the possible 14-18 hours that took place from the start of the play to the end.

Fourplay, plays out with potential and with room to grow to explore the text and feels like it retains more possibilities as a play. Ride on the other hand is restricted, measured and limited. Bodie is an excellent playwright whom has a comfortable relationship with dialogue that transfers beautifully into characters who are down to earth, relatable and plausible. Ride & Fourplay are two very different plays to which some adjustment is required to enjoy them accordingly and in their respective genres.

THE HOUSE OF RAMON IGLESIA

The Old Fitz 12th May-6th June

A Mophead Production

Directed by: Anthony Skuse

Performed by: Christian Charisiou, Deborah Galanos, Nicholas Papademetriou, Ronny Jon Paul Mouawad, Stephen Multari,  Eloise Snape & David Soncin

Synopsis

THE HOUSE OF RAMON IGLESIA is a play about a bright, Americanised son’s tortured efforts to break away from his tradition-bound parents. A break that can’t be made until he learns to accept the ethnic heritage he has spent his life trying to suppress.

 The Iglesia family is a Puerto Rican clan that migrated to Long Island in 1961, and whose members we meet in 1980. JAVIER is a young political science graduate, who often finds his parents embarrassingly indistinguishable from the Puerto Rican “fools” loitering on 8th Avenue. Father RAMON is a menial labourer usually rendered incoherent by his twin curses of diabetes and alcoholism. Religious mother DELORES has never really bothered to learn English.

CHARLIE, the most innocent of them all, is on the cusp of forging an identity for himself, and middle child JULIO wants to join the Marines, much to Javier’s disgust. And for some reason, CAROLINE, Javier’s beautiful white trailer-trash girlfriend wants to tag along for the epic and often humorous Hispanic ride. As the play progresses, we realise the sharp-tongued, well-educated Javier is no prince and his parents, while no saints, are far more complicated than they first appear.

Review

Before seeing this production and reading up on it before hand I was struck with the currently trending phrase ‘Why this story and why now?’ A 1980’s story of Puerto Rican immigrants in New York is a vastly removed circumstance for majority of Australians to connect with. Though I still question ‘why this work?’ I was very quickly at ease with it when  watching the diabolical private moments of a struggling family unit unfold before me. Don’t we all come from homes with drama and family issues, ummm yes…there is plenty of room where we can all relate. My concern was quickly tucked away not to be thought of again as I engaged in the events before me.

Director Anthony Skuse, quite frankly, has done it again! Another smashing show from one of Australia’s finest directors. Skuse handles text in such a caressing and romantic manner it is near impossible not to fall in love with his productions. This years shows ‘Platonov’ at ATYP and most recently ‘Caress Ache’ at Griffin were equally beautiful and captivating to watch. Skuse is a fine director and a fine gentleman which in turn shines gracefully through his work. His approach to character and his casting choices make for the best of independent theatre.

What I loved about Skuses’ production choices is there wasn’t an over-kill in reference to the 80’s in costume or set design. The references that did exist were subtle, which assisted greatly in engaging and focusing on the narrative and the inner conflict of each character instead of viewing the work in a nostalgic period state that could have distracted and dated the work. Skuse also I have noticed has a real affiliation (maybe he doesn’t, just my observation) with chairs. Both in ‘Platonov’ and this work his use of chairs, their placement and there symbolism in relation to human presence were common thread and gives a certain quality and style uniquely his own. This seemingly insignificant notion adds as a powerful ingredient to the invisible musicality and rhythm of his work. Skuses’ direction flows like chocolate lava to which you find yourself covered in and carried by from lights-up to lights- down. His choice of soundscape, composed brilliantly by sound designer Alistar Wallace assisted the work wonderfully. Giving extended silences/pauses in the work strong dancing legs. Succulent and not over-bearing, Skuse has produced a balanced production in every sense of the term.

I too can not speak highly enough of the performances in this production. Their wasn’t an amateur bone in this cast who’s professionalism, dedication and clear understanding of their characters were unwavering and genuine. First on the scene Deborah Galanos, played religious, longing for home mother Delores with tremendous conviction, heart-felt notion and a physical response to her characters struggle and dramatic inclinations masterfully well. A truthful portrayal of a strong Puerto Rican woman who struggles with loss and broken promises. Galanos performed Delores with gripping vitality and flare making her character both loveable and at times pitiful in moments of desperation. Galanos did not lack moments of humour that kept her character grounded and genuine.

Eloise Snape, played trailer-trash girlfriend to main character Javier perfectly. Her physicality was interesting and recognisable, as well as her New-York accen, faultless. Snape really grabbed this American stereotype by the horns making for a hysterical performance keeping an often heavy circumstantial play light on its feet. Snape is a top-notch performer who no doubt will continue to carve out a solid career. A dedicated performer with spark and great stage presence.

Christian Charisiou, authentically played his wanna-be marine bull-headed character Julio with an athletic rhythm and timing. His performance felt like a boxer in a fighting ring. Charisiou ducked were he needed, keeping it light when necessary and swinging the punches at perfect intervals to enhance his characters strengths and weaknesses. A strong performer with clear objectives and strong stage presence.

Nicholas Papademetriou, brilliantly portrayed father Ramon with a real earthy disposition, highlighting the peasant in the urban living man. His characters short comings seemed to out weigh his ability to be charming in tough situations to which Papademetriou’s performed in his stride. Papademetriou has the wow factor in his ability to portray the many colours and layers of a multi faceted character. A highly enjoyable and memorable performance.

Stephen Multari, played the son in the spotlight Javier smoothly and with great restraint. His characters struggles were internalised consistantly though the piece making his out bursts powerful with purposeful emotional back-story to support his frustration and point of view. Though at times a seemingly selfish ungrateful character, Multari gracefully carried his character to redemption in style at the end of the play. Multari is a stylish performer with a classy delivery.

David Sonchin, as Charlie played the younger brother endearingly well with a lot of heart and tenderness. Sonchin gave a well paced performance that made his character loveable – with a sweetness and youthful energy that brought balance to other more volitile characters. Sonchin was at the top of his game, pulling heart strings as he tugged his audience along his characters journey.

Ronny Jon Paul Mouawad, played an Italian thug who knocks on the Iglesia home to settle a debt by purchasing the Iglesia home for pennies. Mouawad successfully pulled out all the Italian mob cards in his portrayal of his character giving an authentic performance that felt surreal to watch. Head to toe Mouawad played the part, his nature and timing were great to watch.

‘The House of Ramon Iglesia’ is a beautifully written, heart-felt family saga. Anthony Skuse has taken the text and turned it into something magical with a brilliant cast whom no doubt drew on personal histories and talents making a distant story feel like home. Another great show produced by Mophead I left the theatre rhapsodic!