Saturday, February 14, 2009
Glass Umbrella Creative with Tamarama Rock Surfers in association with Samuel French inc NY present CHERRY SMOKE by James McManus at the Old Fitzroy Theatre.
CHERRY SMOKE written by a relatively new American writer, James McManus, is a play set in a closed down steel works town near Pittsburg, about four neglected and abused young people. It is despondent and tough and finishes in scarifying tragedy with a tiny glimmer of hope. These are characters that from both our theatre and film and television going, we have met many times before, the story is horribly familiar. So, although the characters are "goldmines" for the actors and director to mine for acting opportunities there is no new point of view explored by the writer and although there is a time shift, (The actors play themselves as kids in one scene and then again as older versions of themselves in others) there is not even any “form” experimentation. But what is promising is the sometimes poetic riffs of the writer that are memorable and seductive …."she keeps telling me that one day we’re gonna walk to where the dirt meets the sky and when there ain’t no more dirt we’ll step on top of the moon and cover each other in white dust. Girl like that, I’d light myself on fire for her.” The poetry is what is promising and has a point of view. The first act is dramatically inert and the second act reveals a plot that is too familiar and melodramatic in its incidents - too ordinary.
But what makes this production worth seeing is the Acting. Although on the opening night it was sometimes too overwrought and slightly pushed (maybe nerves) and could use a little more shading in contrasts in all of its mechanisms, it is volatile with passion and insight. The actors have a real sense of who they are playing and invest great credibility and personalisation in realising them. They palpably love their characters. The director, Michael Dahlstrom, has guided and elicited good work from these actors. The contrasting tempos and temperaments that the writer has observed is beautifully elicited, if a little hysterically played at my performance. Mr Dahlstrom has also worked with the designer, Jessie Giraud, to a simple and very effective design solution The Lighting (Deidre Math) and especially the Sound design (Michael Dahlstrom & Mike Smith) is very well integrated to the narrative points.
John Shrimpton as a “crazy boxer”, Fish, is particularly arresting in his physical dynamics and complete ownership of his characters journey. Emily Rose Brennan has a complete identification of the abused and neglected young woman, Cherry (although sometimes a little harsh on her vocal effort on opening night). In the writer’s contrasted other couple, (that is, more grounded but less driven) Ivan Donato as Duffy, is deeply complex in his inner life and spectacularly simple in his verbal communication of it. Julia Ohannessian (Bug) has a truly moving internal pathos as the unhappy mother that cannot be. With ensemble restraint and a more delicate treading of the shifts in the plays possible contrasts, this work from this team would be even better.
In summary, a familiar tale, promisingly told by a very engaged creative team. I understand this play will have an Off-Broadway opening next week. Sydney is sometimes in the zeitgeist, UH?
Playing now until 28 February. Book online or call 1300 GET TIX (438 849).