Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Hoax

Photo by Brett-Boardman

Griffin Theatre Company and La Boite Theatre Company present A HOAX by Rick Viede at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

A HOAX by Rick Viede, is the winner of the 2011Griffin Award for Playwriting. It follows on from his 2008 Griffin Award winning play, WHORE.

The machinery of A HOAX deals with Anthony Dooley, "Ant" (Glenn Hazeldine), who whilst working as a social worker, invents a story concerning the upbringing of an Indigenous girl called 'Currah' and writes a book, NOBODY'S GIRL, and fobs it off as autobiography. He finds a young woman, Miri Smith (Shari Sebbens), who he believes can impersonate his fictive creation. He finds a book agent, Ronnie Lowe (Sally McKenzie), sells his book and his invention, Currah, to her, who, along with her stylist/publicist assistant, Tyrelle Parks (Charles Allen), create a mega-campaign that launches this book and invention into the market place. It and Currah become a sensation in the literary world and with the general public. This hoax however, people being people, ( fallible, greedy, jealous, being plain human), does, inevitably, unravel.

Rick Viede, in the program notes, tells us that while idly passing the time he found "a wiki wormhole" which led him to a page: 'Literary Hoaxes', and knew he had found his next play. "In my research I identified what I'd call a specific type of hoax. The misery memoir. The fake autobiography. The idealised depiction of difference. These weren't the same as pathological Norma Khouri, historical revisionist Helen Demidenko or prankster Ern Malley; these misery memoir hoaxes played with the very nature of identity. JT Anthony, Wanda Koolmatrie, and Nasdijj were all created by complicated, pained people who felt they lacked access to any form of personal power. So they took their talent - writing - and created a persona that wielded immense power."

Anthony: You require that she explicitly go into every detail over the business in the cellar—

Ronnie: (terse) Yes.

Anthony: Why do you care so much about the cellar? [It becomes an indigenous Josef Fritzl concoction!]

Ronnie: We're giving the public what they want.

Anthony: I don't think you understand—her stories have been—they're about her struggle to fit into the world—to make something of herself—to deal with her self-hatred—

Ronnie: Yes, a nice little misery memoir.

Anthony: She doesn't write memoir—she writes stories based on her memories of certain events.

Ronnie: It's the same thing.

Anthony: It's not.

Ronnie: People aren't interested in stories. They're interested in the truth.

Anthony: But what if it isn't true?

Ronnie: No-one cares, as long as they say it's true. ... ... ... The only difference between fact and fiction is the way you package it.

A HOAX takes us on a cauterising ride that reveals an observation of part of our present world that feeds voraciously on the humiliation of certain members of our society (take most Reality Television Shows, for instance) that are then, sometimes, given a further fillip of delighted degradation with the exposure that some of the 'players' are frauds. A HOAX has the wicked wit of high campery and so an astute, skewed observation vantage point: fast, jolting and shocking. These shocks, often eliciting laughter at the sheer audacity of the expressed observations. An Australian Joe Orton (?) or as Mr Viede suggests, at least, in the tradition of the best of the Restoration Comic writers. A HOAX is a vicious satire on the politics of identity, the modern preoccupation with celebrity - it's delicious "ups-and-downs" - and the commercial peddling of abuse culture. It puts a mirror up to our addiction for public abuse. A societal abuse addiction.

But, more than that, this play, tells us about four 'damaged' loners, four outsiders, four neglected underprivileged, four "complicated psyches, battling to be seen in the world."

Currah :
... ... ...
I fucking love my people!
So tell me— who here's been reading the papers recently, hey?
Doesn't it make you fucking sick?
Those people—those smarty-arsed people out there that think they're better than us, right? ... ...
... ...
Who needs them when we got each other, right?
That's why I say to each and every one of you—as your best friend—be who you are. ... ...
The one thing I figured out a li'l while ago—and I wanna get real serious now—see,is—I don't believe in
That shit will eat out your heart and then go for seconds.
Those people out there they want us to feel ashamed and we say to them—SHAME ON YOU!
Shame on Shame. Shame on Shame. 'Cause we got just as much right to exist as everyone else no matter how much we feel like freaky deformed outsiders 'cause we're into weird shit or weird shit's happened to us or we just wish it would!
So be who you are and please, for me, don't give a shit."
A cry from the heart of this writer for "the Other" and their right to respected acknowledgement. The acknowledgement to be an equal member of society.

Lee Lewis has directed a sharp and unfussy production on her signature aesthetic of a white and black set with mock classic furnishings (no chandelier this time), designed by Renee Mulder and lit by Jason Glenwright. The social ambitions of the play and its complicated cast of motivated characters, mixed with a 'Restoration' theatre tradition, penchant, for dense, fast, witty jokes, augmented with a need for physical farce efforts from the actors, is a tricky demand. It is, as it is with the Orton repertoire (see, ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE), fraught with enormous difficulties. Add, dramatic shifts to pathos to the mix, and it is indeed a challenge. A Big Play, despite its appearance of slender dimensions.

Glenn Hazeldine, as Anthony (Ant), desperate energy and straight spine of the super structure of the play, gives another fine and beautifully judged performance. Anthony reveals himself, belatedly, in the play construction, and the spare task that the writer has given the actor earlier, is illuminated delicately by Mr Hazeldine to deliver a considerable pathos of some power in the final scenes. Mr Hazeldine manages to confirm his beautiful craft judgements, that enhanced his work in the Suzie Miller play, TRANSPARENCY last year, and the recent tour de force in PORN.CAKE at the Griffin last month. Watch his calibrated decline in the destruction of the motel room. An actor with canny craft and true artistic weight.

Shari Sebbens, in her Sydney professional stage debut as Currah/Miri, (we will see her soon in the film, THE SAPPHIRES, in August) introduces herself with a truly life like bounce. Her initial appearance as a gamine from the bush bouncing about on the bed of the first motel room she has ever been in, to the elegant black dress, high heeled woman of the public world of the Book Tour, is created with spontaneity and unforced ease. Straddling the complex tasks that Mr Viede has given her, from that of energetic innocent stooge to a whip-smart woman in control of her destiny, Ms Sebbens reveals a theatrical intelligence of some sophistication, some layered dimensions of motivation. Her scenes with Mr Hazeldine are beautifully balanced and generous. Both actors having an appetite for the other actor's input.

Charles Allen is challenged by the difficulties that Mr Viede has created for his creation of Tyrelle. In the first half, Tyrelle is an outrageous, (American),"Stupid Fucking Camp Black Queenie Faggot" with a flippy mouth and a wit that out-guns all about him and finds an equal in the ebullience of Currah, delightedly. But, in the second half, Tyrelle has found some personal career maturity and reveals a schizophrenic other self (not clearly demarcated by either the writer or the actor on the night I saw it - never saw much of the latter self in the first, for instance). Mr Allen finds some comfort in his revelation of the straighter, meaner Tyrelle but struggles with releasing comfortably the comic, 'queenie' self - his lovely bouncy wig, does most of the work, for him. There is, in my view, not enough accurate comic timing and no fair exchange in the dynamics with Ms Sebbens and Ms Mckenzie from Mr Allen. He delivers his line with action, but does not receive any information that seems to affect him at all. Response to input, verbal or physical, is a key comic technique. Comedy is a two way energy exchange and Mr Allen only has a one way energy and little active listening skills, he does not register. The scenes lose their comic dimension, and, become, despite the efforts of Ms Sebbens and McKenzie, a little de-energized, falling a trifle flat. The first act is not as smooth or as Ortonesque as it should be, as is written.

Sally McKenzie gives a thorough performance as the ruthless and damaged harridan, Ronnie Lowe. It has all the detail of creation required, but, has a studied air about it and appears not very interested in the character defining details that the other actors are giving her. The ultimate solo speech in the third scene, on the night I attended, was over played in its drunkedness and completely self absorbed in creating choices that were theatrical rather than truthful - it was as if we were invited to watch an actress strut her stuff, rather than a business woman, rallying her troops for a new strategy and campaign, for a book sequel, SOMEBODY TO LOVE, for further survival in the world of A HOAX.

There is much to like about this production, but I suspect the play is hampered with some difficult mis-casting. The style of writing is highly ambitious and unforgiving in its demands. The dualistic arcs of the characters and the highly honed skills of the classic comic actor need to be highly tuned to match this writer. Those demands are not always met here.

A HOAX is certainly deserving of attention.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Entertaining Mr Sloane

New Theatre present ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE by Joe Orton at the New Theatre, Newtown.

ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE (1964), LOOT (1965) and WHAT THE BUTLER SAW (1967) are the three major plays of Joe Orton. All, now classics, timeless in their observations. The form of Mr Orton's inventions became progressively more and more sophisticated until finally in WHAT THE BUTLER SAW, we have a masterpiece of wit, at a Restoration play level of complication and satire, and a combined dangerous physical farce of the top notch vaudeville stage exemplars. Both ingredients insisting on actors of amazing skills to pull it off. Most companies are up against it - the skills really need to be Olympian.

ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE is the most naturalistic of the works and it winds itself into a world of hysteria gradually and carefully. We begin in an ordinary room with Kath (Alice Livingstone) showing a prospective boarder, Sloane (Brynn Loosemore) the advantages of her house as a place to rent and live. Just who needs Sloane to live here, whether it be Sloane himself or Kath, quickly becomes shockingly evident. Later, Eddie (Pete Nettell) and Kemp (Frank McNamara), the two men of the household, take an active interest of Sloane's suitability, as well. The play begins in a world we know, on Earth, but slyly escalates into the outer regions of Venus and Mars, lubricated by comic farce, where sex and violence, quickly become acceptable modes of 'commerce', even to the limits of sexual perversions and murder, to accommodate the needs of the human animals of the play. Orton understands, according to John Lahr in his Introduction to the Eyre Methuen publication of the play script (1973), how much the sensibility of his characters have been molded by the sixties society. "He was the first playwright to dramatize the psychopathic style of the 60's - that restless, ruthless, single minded pursuit of satisfaction - transformed by drugs and rock music into myth."

As a playgoer of forty years may I
sincerely agree with Peter Pinnell in his
I myself was nauseated by this
endless parade of mental and physical
perversion. And to be told that such a
disgusting piece of filth now passes for
Today's young playwrights take it
upon themselves to flaunt their contempt
for ordinary decent people. I hope that the ordinary decent people will shortly strike
Yours sincerely,
Edna Welthorpe (Mrs.)

This 'Edna' was actually Joe Orton himself, fanning the scandal of his first produced show. SLOANE is no longer a shock, but, it still carries a considerable whack and is more than just comic. It is still provoking and surprising in its unconventional ease with sex and violence as reasonable solutions to obstacles to the character's needs, even in today's world.

"All his plays deal with violent death or the threat of it; and Orton, as the major stage satirist of the 60's, knew about killing with laughter.". To be destructive, he wrote in his novel HEAD TO TOE, “Words must be irrefutable ... Print was less effective than the spoken word because the blast was greater; eyes could ignore, slide past, dangerous verbs or nouns. But if you lock the enemy into a room somewhere and fire the sentence at them you could get a sort of seismic disturbance". So, Orton, a failed actor, turned to writing for the theatre, a room where the audience could be, was, locked in, and hoped his words would cause laughter that would 'kill' the hypocrisy about him. They did. They still do.

The New Theatre production directed by Rosane McNamara is pleasantly competent, but not much more, for the word usage is, mostly, in blurings of brush strokes of detail, instead of the pointillist dab of connected words, for affect, to create an impression, where the word by word clarity of information should be built to intricate explosions of jokes that compound to collected explosions of outrage and laughter. The Sydney Morning Herald critic Jason Blake, wrote of the potential of this production and had hoped that as it settled in it would find more of the darkness of the comedy. Seeing it in the last week of the run, the production though nicely staged and drilled, lacked from the warring siblings, Kath and Eddie, the technical detail and pointed use of the language to reveal the full comic possibility of the text. Instead we get generalised effects and lose the verbal witticisms in the appropriate but jumbled speed. A laugh at the end of a long speech instead of the potential of, sometimes, a laugh a line. The thinking, in-the-moment, from Ms Livingstone and Mr Nettell is not sharp enough and their technical use of the vocal instrument's range is shallow, and fails to help draw and keep the audience attentive to the dexterity of Mr Orton's muscular wit and satiric wordsmithing.

Mr McNamara with his slightly studied care in searching for the right word as Kemp, succeeds to build a rapport with Mr Loosemore's Sloane in the Ortonesque twists and turns of their scenes, that, together, have more appearance of controlled tempo, for the jokes to be pointed, landed and absorbed by the audience. Indeed, Mr Loosemore as the object of sexual tension in the play gives an understated and sophisticated attitude of accommodation to Sloane to all the furore about him, benignly open to the requests of his hosts, and the sudden shifts to violence are as astonishingly strange to us as Mr Hyde's were in Robert Louis Stevenson's good Dr Jekyll. Mr Loosemore's Sloane remains oddly attractive in all the bickerings of the others, and murder accusations are the last thing we would want to aim at him. This Sloane has entertained us into a place of moral creep. We, too, are seduced.

The realistic set by Marissa Dale-Johnson has the right weight of period suburban grunge - all lovingly, heavily used and worn. The costumes, as well, were simply realistic and added delightfully to the feel of the world of the play: the see-through nightie of Kath particularly sensational in every kind of way for the comedy and its sexual titivation - thrilling! Thank you, Mr Lighting, Christopher Page. Mr Sloane's leather chauffeur gear, not quite right, but sexy, still, in its incompetent naivety.

This production though lacking the razor sharpness of thought and vocal edge that Orton demands, had more of the play right, than not. A, relatively, good time was had by all on the night I went. It certainly was more satisfying than the STC production of LOOT last year.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Seafarer

Photo by Wendy McDougal

O'Punsky's Theatre presents THE SEAFARER by Conor McPherson at the Darlinghurst Theatre.

Conor McPherson is an Irish writer who is regarded as "...quite possibly the finest of his generation" (Ben Brantley- New York Times). The Sydney season, this year, has also given us Enda Walsh and his exceptional THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM, and, what with Mark O'Rowe and his TERMINUS last year, and, further back still, Martin McDonagh, pulsing vividly in our memory in regular Sydney theatre outings, one begins to wonder just why does this country, Ireland, throw up such impressive writers for the theatre (Martin McDonagh being English/Irish, of course).

THE SEAFARER (2006) follows on from another prize winning play, THE WEIR (1999) - seen earlier this year at the New Theatre, and SHINING CITY (2004), and Mr McPherson, just 41 years of age, has a record that would be envy making for any playwright. THE SEAFARER, is set in a grim living area of a house in Baldoyle in Dublin, a room with no woman to touch its care, it has morphed into a kind of bar in appearance. The designed setting of this production by Amanda McNamara is a wonderfully detailed vision of distress and decay. The atmosphere garnered with the lighting design of Tony Youlden and supported with another detailed sound design by Nate Edmondson (see, THE HIGHWAY CROSSING) is truly disgusting in its realities. There is something rotting in this world.

The play begins in more or less darkness and Sharky (Patrick Dickson), a shambles, facially injured with a tough life etched all over him, attempting to give up the alcohol -2 days in - stumbles down a staircase, past a framed picture of the Sacred Heart (of Jesus), pausing to tap a red light, a light of remembrance, that has gone out, it flickers for a few seconds only, and once again extinguishes. He falls over the passed out, "stinking" body of his brother, Richard (Maeliosa Stafford), recently blinded in a drunken episode with a fall in "a skip", who wakes to the fierce need of another drink. They are joined by Ivan (Patrick Connolly), from the spare room, who has stayed the night, a drunken refugee from his family, visibly shaking with delirium tremors of alcoholic addiction. It is Christmas Eve and a list of shopping for the festive season is drawn up: Harp, four six packs, Stout, three bottles of Paddy Powers whiskey, and bottles of Miller and, as afterthought, a turkey. It is good that they have done so, for later that night, Nicky (John O'Hare), arrives with a friend, Mr Lockhart (William Zappa) - he, with a bottle of superior whiskey - although, there is a bottle of illegally distilled 'poteen' as well, at hand: Brigid Blake's famous Antrim poteen. This collection of 'pickled' debris, of men, are charged through the night, with cards and drunken, haranguing forays into the neighbourhood, bashing violently "the fucking winos” with golf sticks and all. Cards for euros, and, we discover, for a soul, as well.

The writing is wry and meticulously realistic and the acting required is one of slow and accurate revelations, both physical and psychic.

Mr Connolly, as Ivan, is a charming, though frightening, wreck of humanity, especially impressive in his carefully constructed creation - his Ivan, a wonderfully calibrated object of myopic self-destruction and pure Irish pathos. Mr O'Hare, too, especially, in his blustery opening scenes, gold necklace, sunglasses-on-head and all, an aging spiv 'seeding' before ultimate decay. On the other hand, Mr Stafford, having a duel role here as the blind Richard, the central role of a man with a sense of an over powering, self willed oblivion, and that of director of the play, is less impressive, for, despite his characterisation details, he appears to be slightly out of synchronization with the give and take of the other actors on stage. He needs a director's third eye to help place him into the reality of what is happening, technically, around him. It is sometimes as if he is in another production. That he has played this role before, at the Abbey Theatre, is no surprise, then, and there is a sense that he is in both, now. In his program note, Mr Stafford confesses "Directing from the inside is not something I attempt to do often, nor would I recommend it." Sage advice , it seems, whatever clues, guidance, he was given by his assistant director, Jacobie Gray, for, although, the characterisation is safe and clear, if not entirely embraced, it is the music of the text that he fails to orchestrate for himself, with the other actors; he appears to be not listening accurately to the others, and so the production flounders, ever so slightly, with a lack of confident rhythmic tempo, even, sometimes, musical note hearing, and, in such a crucially central role, as Richard, it disconnects the even flow of the story telling.

The incredible part of the writing by Mr McPherson is the skill that he has, in taking us, effortlessly, from the deeply disturbing ugliness of this real world in Dublin, and gradually escalating us into the heightened 'metaphysics' of the super religious, of devil and souls, as we become acquainted with the possibly true relationship of Sharky and Mr Lockhart, the man with the look of a businessman and bon viveur, and back again, to the ruined day-to-night world of these sad men. This card game is not just for money but for something much greater. The play for a soul with the devil. Or is it? On this Christmas eve with a scrawny artificial Christmas tree haunting the room and the broken homage to the sacred heart of Jesus Christ hovering over the action, is it just the power of the poteen, a possible hallucinogenic effect of illegal alcohol, on Sharky, a man desperately attempting to break from the cycle of alcoholic abuse, and plagued with guilt, that we are witnessing? Just an hallucination? An Intriguing work, then.

The ordinary language and conversation of the characters are totally believable. The world of these men, this ruined world, this culture, can be smelt with the ears. Later, when it moves into the metaphysical the prose/poetry is captivating:
What's Hell? (He laughs a little laugh.) Hell is ... (He stares gloomily.) Well, you know, Sharky, when you're walking round and round the city and the street lights have all come on and it's cold. Or you're standing outside a shop where you were hanging around reading the magazines, pretending to buy one 'cause you've no money and nowhere to go and your feet are like blocks of ice in those stupid little slip-on shoes you bought for chauffeuring. And you see all the people who live in another world all snuggled up together in the warmth of a tavern or a cosy little house, and you just walk and walk and walk and you're on your own and nobody knows who you are. And you don't know anyone and you're trying not to hassle people or beg, because you're trying not to drink, and you're hoping you won't meet anyone you know because of the blistering shame that rises up in your face and you have to turn away because you know you can't deal with the thought that someone might love you, because of all the pain you cause.
Well, that's a fraction of the self-loathing you feel in hell, except it's worse. …
It is this use of language in its expression of cultural grief for his fellow Irishmen, that is painfully, brilliantly gifted to us. It all appears so seamlessly connected, and that is the wonder of Mr McPherson's play. Mr Dickson as Sharky creates a delicate fragility of a man who is facing the decision to sink or swim. He is a seafarer. It is done, by Mr Dickson, with careful and understated accuracy, as he has his Sharky stand with one foot in the world of the lost, blind Richard, who has drunk himself "on to the next shelf in the basement", and, the other in the 'reality' of the metaphysic fallen 'angel', Mr Lockhart. At the end, when the sunlight struggles into the room in the new day, Christmas Day, and Sharky unfolds the Christmas card from a woman called Miriam, listening to the music of "Sweet Little Mystery", her gift, we all hope for a rescue into a future that is reflective of Mr Lockhart's vision of Heaven : "Not so much a tune as a heartbreakingly beautiful vibration in the sunlight shining down on and through all the souls." Mr Dickson has taken us there, to the possibility of a salvation.

Mr Zappa, well-dressed and confidently affluent, appears like the Inspector in the Priestly play, AN INSPECTOR CALLS, both of this world and otherwise, eerie and uncanny in this environment of corruption. The physical manifestations of Mr Lockhart in the private interviews with Sharky are deftly insidious and gently logical in their progression (aided by the lighting and sound) by Mr Zappa. The performance is a gentle act of courage and cheekiness, what one expects from all good actors - gentle, can be operative, according to need. Mr Zappa has, as usual, impecable judgement. It works superbly.

O’Punsky's Theatre is an actor's collective founded twenty odd years ago. They have presented, as younger men, work that was inspired by playwrights reflecting their own life journeys and issues. Among others, OBSERVE THE SONS OF ULSTER MARCHING TO THE SOMME by Frank McGuinness; THE SLAB BOYS by John Bryne; THE FAITH HEALER by Brian Friel; and THE GIGLI CONCERT by Tom Murphy. Now, to quote them, "As we have aged and grown so have the characters and the predicaments of the plays we have produced. ... Now, in our fifties and beyond, our own relationships and characters have deepened and THE SEAFARER fits us like a glove." The ambition of the company and the quality of this performance reflects a magnificent commitment to the power of the theatre.

Today, Sunday, on my bus to Bondi Junction at 8.30 in the morning, two young Irish men/boys, stinking of drink and tobacco from the night before, dressed in board shorts and t-shirts, despite the cold, each with a half drunk bottle of beer in their hands and the loud, impenetrable brogue on their lips, unaware of their circumstances, brought the tragedy of this play to sad, sad life. Seafarers, both, wrecks on the seas of alcohol, in the present day Irish diaspora.

Do catch Mr McPherson's play, if you can.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

ACO: Tour Four (Trout Quintet & Quartet For The End Of Time)

Guest Pianist Saleem Abboud Ashkar

Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) presents Tour Four, TROUT QUINTET and QUARTET FOR THE END OF TIME in the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) presented Franz Schubert's Piano Quintet in A major, 'Trout" Op.114,D.667 (Composed1819, published 1829) and Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time (1941).

Helena Rathbone (Violin), Christopher Moore (Viola), Timo-Veikko Valve (Cello), Maxime Bibeau (Double Bass) were joined by guest artist Saleem Abboud Ashkar (Piano) for the five movement "Trout" Quintet. This is a piece of some familiarity for me. It was a joy to hear and watch the quintet play. Pleasures reawakened and enhanced.

What was especially enjoyable was to have, in the Schubert, such exquisite comfort in the intricate interaction of these five musicians in a piece I love and, then, have such a remarkably contrasting experience in the other half of the program with the Messiaen QUARTET FOR THE END OF TIME. In this work, another guest, Paul Dean played the clarinet (Mr Bibeau and Moore were not required). This work was new to me, and although challenging, was completely involving.

Extrapolated from the concert program notes by Robert Murray:
Composition QUARTET FOR THE END OF TIME began whilst Olivier Messiaen was a prisoner of war in a German camp, in 1941, Stalag VIIIA at Gorlitz. The German authorities were empathetic to the composer and provided him with tools to compose. By this time Messiaen as a composer had developed a discipline of musical 'rhythm and mode' (part of an avantgarde group called Le Jeune France - Young France) that distinguished his compositional work from other artists of the time (e.g. Les Six and their ringleader Poulenc), but, in addition to these restraints Messiaen " ... found himself having to work with the instruments and musicians available to him in the camp: violinist Jean Le Boulaire, Henri Akoka, clarinetist, and Etienne Pasquier, a cellist.. ... In the confines of a war camp in the depths of the winter of 1941, Messiaen might well have believed that the end of time - and indeed his own time - were imminent." The fourth movement,”Interlude" for piano, clarinet and violin was the first of eight movements created. .
Mr Ashkar, on piano, was a sensitive and delicate, integrated, member of the orchestra (in both pieces). In this latter work, Paul Dean, as the clarinetist was especially impressive. The' bird' like orchestrations of Messiaen are fiendishly dense and, to my ear difficult - the clarinet solo, Abyss of the Birds, the third movement, had Mr Dean in a mesmeric possession of concentration which signified to us listeners and watchers to a special need and appreciation of the compelling and gripping performance that he coaxed from his instrument with, often, barely audible sounds to ringing volume intensities, aesthetically arresting us, with these brilliant changes in swoops of 'noise' and startling, contrasting tempo. The duet in section five: Paean to the Eternity of Jesus, between Mr Ashkar (Piano) and Mr Valve, (Cello) was also glorious, as was the final duet between Ms Rathbone (Violin) and Mr Ashkar (Piano), Paean to the Immortality of Jesus. This was a new work for me and I found it a profoundly moving experience.

The programming of the Schubert and the Messiaen is in the experience of it, a disparately brave one. Two more contrasted pieces could not, necessarily, be placed in such challenging juxtaposition. It is this very set of choices that make the Australian Chamber Orchestra such an unmissable appointment for me. It is what makes me regard the ACO as the jewel in the crown of my theatre going experiences in Sydney. Stimulating, shocking and exquisitely, always, remarkable in its standard of ensemble and solo performing.

Full of wonder.

Indeed, wonderful.

P.S. Interesting to have a 'live' broadcast of the players on a screen behind them. I loved to be able to watch the playing so closely. I loved to watch it unedited as myself, and, then, to see the director/live editor choices and focused interests. Did I like It ? Do I believe it a permanent necessity? I'll wait and see when the whole orchestra is on the stage. The orchestra may demand professional make up as well!!!, if it continues.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Eat, Pray, Laugh!

Dainty Group in association with Team Edna and the Barry Humphries conglomerate, (a wholly owned subsidiary of Edna Care Switzerland) presents EAT PRAY LAUGH! - a meditation of loss, gender and ethnicity by Dr Barry Humphries AC CBE. BARRY HUMPHRIES' FAREWELL TOUR, at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney.

I came to Barry Humphries' work very late (I don't mean to this actual performance late, from experience of other shows, I would never dare). EAT PRAY LAUGH! is the fourth or fifth show I have attended. I am a fan. My first time, I remember, was at the State Theatre. I went under forced curiosity. I sat down in that sumptuous theatre a little apprehensive and nervous (believe it or not) and subsequently, laughed so hard and so consistently that I ended up giving myself a migraine - I am not, thankfully, susceptible to migraine, usually - I just had had too much of a good thing and my body overloaded in , I suppose, compensation. Maybe my water shed of laughter tears had caused dehydration? No gain without pain, my Catholic schooling had taught me.

Dame Edna had always looked too much like various relatives and friends of my extended family, and I was stupid and kind of thick - or just afraid of being found out - and feared that the material of Dame Edna was cruel: too near the bone of my surroundings, to be funny. On the above night, I must have been, at last, mature enough to GET it. But, even more, I also understood, that not only was Barry Humphries a great comic, he was an accurate and judicious observer of the world around us, and he had a basic love, if not wholly optimistic faith in the human species, and loved, deep down, us, and all that he created, for us. But, best of all my discoveries, was, was Mr Humphries was also a great actor. Now, as then, this actor has created in the formula of EAT PRAY LAUGH!, four characters for our entertainment and edification. They were miraculously, pulsingly alive and I loved them, all. The spectacle of his characters can be terrifying, can be pitiful, but they are always funny.

With EAT PRAY LAUGH! (I keep writing EAT PRAY LOVE ! instead of EAT PRAY LAUGH! - Love for Laugh, tells me something, I reckon), we saw Sir Les Patterson, a politician, cultural ambassador in retirement looking for a role as a celebrity chef on television. COOKING WITH SIR LES. Now, nearly as physically gross as some of the master chefs that appear on our televisions, weekly, if looks are a major criteria, Sir Les could have a job. Channel 7 is getting desperate. I didn't voice that, I didn't! Next, a new person, his brother, Gerard Patterson, a 'touching' member of the clergy (Cardinal Pell knew of him, it seemed). Lastly, a delicate 'ghost', Sandy Stone, full of poignant reminiscences of his, once, local habitat. All in the first half, all costumed, bewigged and 'owned' with the brilliant consummate art of a great actor/artist. Changes, cosmetically happening, dazzlingly quickly, it seemed, in front of our eyes, but , even more startlingly with an innate kind of plasticity that seemed to emanate from deep inside Mr Humphries, so that each of each creations were, also, whole inner transformations. Existences rather than characterisations. Persons created from the inside, to the outer cosmetic and costumed enamelled recognisable characteristics of an objective design.

I was reminded of reading Simon Callow talking of one of my favourite actors, Alec Guinness (both Guinness and Humphries, coincidentally, having played famous versions of Dickens' Fagin, one for the David Lean film, OLIVER TWIST, the other, for the West End, Lionel Bart musical, OLIVER!) : "The measured gravity, the detachment, the faint air of whimsicality ... " produced an impression of each of his creations that were '".. curiously compelling. Guinness seemed to change alchemically, his metal altered in the crucible of his imagination..." [1]. (Check out KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS -1949).  So too, of Mr Humphries, I believe.

I quote Mr Guinness, in my regard for Mr Humphries' work, "An actor needs a slightly mystical approach to the stage, you can't force yourself on the character" [1]. Barry Humphries, even in the vaudeville tradition of his practice has that air of mysticism. It certainly permeates his greatest personation, Dame Edna. Mr Humphries appears possessed by this woman, and is being manipulated by an inner force, and, so when in Edna's presence, this power and mysticism impresses us with a kind of cultural recognition of our Australian ancestry - Edna Everage is a legacy of our genetic inclinations, and one of every Australian family.

 What, with the International success of Edna, she  maybe even more iconic than just in our local parish. Parochial icon she is not, eh? She is indeed an International Superstar - affectionately recognized and embraced all over the English speaking world.

EAT PRAY LAUGH! directed by Simon Phillips and designed by Brian Thomson, firstly a green grassed Aussie backyard with bar-b-cue and shed, and then green hedged garden of a suspicious looking ashram, is a very smooth and upmarket looking showcase for the hilarious gifts of Mr Humphries. Surrounded by a team of deliberate 'cheesy' dancers with 'cheesy' choreography and truly woeful musical numbers (not too many - Z- grade Club material) we are regaled into continuous laughter for almost three hours. The sometimes audacious, cutting edge of the material (held breaths with some of Gerrard's double edged conversation) is counterbalanced with the familiar torments of a vaudeville stand-up comedy act, that Edna and troupe have given us before - intense, but funny audience interaction et al. The structure of this show and the material is mostly old stuff from past incarnations, but there is enough new text and jokes to keep one from being too agitated, besides, those 'oldies' are clearly, still, 'goodies', for we were entirely immersed. Both, those that were new to the Edna experience and those adoringly familiar with her and her mates and her style. The gladioli made a lovely (sigh) appearance.

Mr Humphries in his "Welcome Possums" note in the program tells us that despite the rumours, a wise story of the bad reputation that RETIREMENT has for him, concerning a Mr Ted Whittle, has given him reason "to therefore promise (us) that (he) will not permanently vanish from (our) midst but for the time being at least, (he) will be nurturing and expanding (his) other not inconsiderable talents." On stage as himself in the curtain call, which was tremendous from near 2, 000 patrons in the theatre, Mr Humphries intimated, he will be back, just at a more convenient scale next time. Let us hope, that like Dame Nellie Melba and, some think, Johnny Farnham, he continues to farewell us. He is a tonic for life that should always be expectedly available.

Otherwise, Bob Downe, sharpen up the material - you may be it, next.

1. MY LIFE IN PIECES. An Alternative Autobiography - Simon Callow, Nick Hern Books, 2010.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Mouse Trap

Michael Coppel, Louise Withers, Linda Bewick in association with Adrian Barnes by arrangement with Mousetrap Ltd London present Agatha Christie's THE MOUSETRAP at the Sydney Theatre.

The publicity for the production of Agatha Christie's THE MOUSETRAP has centred around the 60th Anniversay of this play's production. It has been running in London non-stop for precisely that length of time. It was felt this was a way to celebrate it. Given the penchant audiences have for the television productions of Ms Christie's work - both, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot; and the unbelievable success of a soppy, soft series such as MIDSOMER MURDERS, this seems like an astute move by the producers.

I had to walk to the box office twice before I could get a single ticket. The night I went it was sold out. I have never seen an audience in the Sydney Theatre so happy in the interval and so engaged as they were exiting. Discussions about such and such a character. "Did you guess it?", "I thought it was him", "She was so convincing", "Wasn't that terrific?" erupting on the footpath afterwards, as I fought my way to the stairs to my bus stop , through the milling crowd. Usually, everyone has bolted out the door for home - if not before the end, straight after. Bothered and bewildered. Staff have told me that they have never seen such contented audiences in the foyer of the Sydney Theatre in the interval. Even better, they have had no complaints from a single customer. Bliss and happiness all round. Producer, theatre staff and audience. Something is right with this, indeed. N.B. That this production is not miked and even in the Circle where I was, I heard every word. A completely boxed set must help the usually notorious acoustics of this theatre a lot.

For those who go to the theatre regularly, THE MOUSETRAP is a very conventional work. The play has a beginning, middle and an end that all of us can read and understand. It has characters that the audience can recognise and identify with - for or against. There is mystery, intrigue and suspense, and comedy as well, enough to keep everyone contented and occupied. For some around me, enthralled. This is the play as writ without a director's hand at all taking a point of view - thank God it isn't at Belvoir. How will a fellow artist to Ms Christie, Noel Coward, survive down there with PRIVATE LIVES. It is not Mr Stone at the helm, is it?

Stage Directions: Act One. Scene 1.

Scene - The Great Hall at Monkswell Manor. Late afternoon.

"The house looks not so much a period piece but a house which has been lived in by generations of the same family with dwindling resources. There are tall windows up C.; a big arched entrance up R leading to the entrance hall ..."
And this is what we see when we enter the theatre. Set Design, Linda Bewick (no curtain, I was disappointed - nothing like the swish of the rising curtain to boost one's excitement). A meticulously large, tall and warm wooden panelled set and 'fat' furnishings with lots of coverings in a warm amber glow (Lighting Design, Matt Cox). The lights fade to black and we hear music of "Three Blind Mice" following a whistle and screamed voices fading to a silence (Sound Design, David Tonion). The lights rise and there is a a radio broadcasting news of a London Murder and then Mollie Ralston (Christy Sullivan) enters. Over the next twenty minutes or so we are introduced to each of the characters who are arriving at the house and to be marooned here by a snow blizzard as a murderer hovers to enact revenge. Who Dunit? After two hours or so, we know. And we enter a covenant not to tell anyone, as tradition demands.

What is splendid with this production is that it is played dead straight - no spoofing at all. It is this conviction of reality that prises us into the conventions of the work and its time - it does work - splendidly. This should not come as a surprise. Ms Christie is an expert at her craft. The production and the acting is good. More detailed direction (Gary Young) could still sharpen it even further. It is nicely paced but not subtly nuanced. Ms Christie can plot her plays with a brilliant ease, she can pencil line a character type accurately but her dialogue is simply direct and deliberately constructed to develop suspicion and tension and not much else. Get the character costume and make up choices down for easy cluing and then go! (Costume and Hair, Suzy Strout).The actors, then, need to accurately and technically deliver the information in the line and deny the temptation to play histrionics. It has to be deliberately placed and paced. There can be a tendency from some, at some times, to glide too effortlessly through the dialogue without technical thought. It needs real care and concentration. It is a tricky balance. Recently, I saw a lovingly directed production of ROOKERY NOOK (1926), a Ben Travers farce, by Rodney Fisher with students that had the line by line nuance beautifully. It adds an exquisite element of class, period and truth and an invitation to ease, for the audience to believe, to follow. The sounds of the words have information and period atmosphere.Both have to be captured for an excellent time in the theatre.

I thought Robert Alexander, genuinely wicked, pointed finger and all, in his creation of Mr Paravicini; Linda Cropper, irritatingly deserving as Mrs Boyle. Terrific work from Gus Murray, Nicholas Hope, and Travis Cotton (a little over the top!?). Ms Sullivan, as Mollie, was too shrill and sat too much at the same level for my complete belief and comfort, and oddly, Justin Smith as Detective-Sergeant Trotter, while more than competent, was not as suave or confident as usual. Still always a pleasure to watch him at work.

All in all, then, a good night out. For most, a great night. I knew it would be, when the audience, some five minutes in, chuckled to themselves as the radio described a suspect of the London murder at the same time as a character was tidying up the room and picked up from the back of the couch "... a dark overcoat, light scarf, and a soft grey hat." They had a suspect ripe in front of their eyes.

60 years on the throne : Queen Elizabeth. 60 years on the stage : Agatha Christie's THE MOUSETRAP. A Silver Jubilee success for both it seems.

The Empire Strikes Back!

This is an all Australian cast. It wouldn't have happened way back then. Even more amazing no "soapie star" needed to attract the bums to the seats.  Please, STC take note. Just the reputation of the Play and the Author. Belvoir has been gambling on that for the last few years. Pity, what Belvoir have done to the plays and the authors, some would say. Ask Mr Albee. If you dare. Ask Mr Shakespeare, Gorky, Chekhov, O'Neill, Beckett if you can.

Die tote Stadt (The Dead City)

Opera Australia presents Die tote Stadt (The Dead City) : An Opera in three acts by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Libretto by Paul Schott (pseudonym for Julius and Erich Korngold), after Georges Rodenbach's novel BRUGES - LA - MORTE (1982). Sung in German with English surtitles, translated by Jonathan Burton. In the Opera theatre, Sydney Opera House.

I believe Opera to be the greatest of the performing art forms.

I also know that it is the hardest of all the forms to get right to justify such an observation. I have had GREAT experiences. A Meistersinger; aTristan; a Parsifal; a Tosca; a Boheme; a Boris; a Cosi; a Cendrillon; a Faust; a Jenufa; a Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; a Dialogues of the Carmelites; a Glass; an Adam. I have been going to the opera as a fan ever since the next to last seasons of the Australian Opera at the old Elizabethan Theatre in Newtown. Which means I have to, should, include my first ever opera Turandot with Morag Beaton and Donald Smith, and my second experience, Der Rosenkavalier, if not great, then, life changing.

Really, I HAVE seen and heard some great stuff, uh? But then, my youth is so golden in its remembrances.

My remembrances.

My theatre diary has had fewer and fewer attendances at the opera, simply because I cannot afford it and the Australian Opera repertoire is too repetitive and the artists not interesting enough. So, I go now, when I do, mostly, because there is an artist's work that I need to see and hear or it is a work that I have never seen and really feel that I ought to know.

Hence, my attendance at Die tote Stadt by Erich Wolfgang Korngold at the Opera Theatre at the Sydney Opera House. Despite its silly libretto and the intriguing fact that it was written by father and son, Erich only 20 - the text is quite bizarre and different from the original source - : murder sex, the usual opera fantasises. (Freud should have analyzed this collaboration). The music is, was, the draw card.

Korngold was born in Brno in 1897 and died in Hollywood in 1957. At the age of 10 he played a composition of his own, GOLD, for Mahler who declared he was a genius. At age 11 he composed a ballet, DER SCHNEEMANN (THE SNOWMAN) - it was a sensation at the Vienna Court Opera. Strauss responded to Korngold's first orchestral works, written when he was 15: "One's first reaction that these compositions are by an adolescent boy are those of awe and fear…". "Puccini was impressed with his first opera VIOLANTA (1916). His early fame reached its height with the appearance of his operatic masterpiece, Die tote Start, composed when he was 20 and acclaimed the world over after its dual premiere in Hamburg and Cologne (1920)." [1]

Max Reinhardt having collaborated with Korngold on work in Germany, took him to Hollywood in 1934. Reinhardt directed a version of Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM for the Hollywood Bowl and the Warner Brothers Studios decided to film it. The score used for the film was based on the Felix Mendelssohn's music, but, it and other Mendelssohn music scores were re-arranged and re-orchestrated by Korngold. This was his first Hollywood film. The Nazi invasion of Austria, the Anschluss, prevented Korngold returning to Europe, and he remained in Hollywood composing music for the cinema. Two scores, ANTHONY ADVERSE (1936) and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), received Oscars - the Academy Award. After the war he returned to absolute music.

"Korngold was one of the last great Romantic composers. Over the years, however, he suffered neglect and savage criticism, largely because of changing trends and his association with Hollywood. Then in 1975, Die tote Stadt was revived to capacity houses in New York and the first recording was released... ".(1)

92 years after the original production, 37 years after its revival in the World Opera Houses, we get to see and hear it in Australia. Why wouldn't one make an effort to see it? Coincidentally, Michael Curtiz's THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD with Errol Flynn, Olivia de Haviland, Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains was on the big screen at the Dendy Circular Quay, a couple of Monday's ago, so, in preparation for the opera, I went (the Korngold score, my excuse).

Lyndon Terracini, the Artistic Director for Opera Australia, and Adrian Collette, Chief Executive, have been on a very active touting of the opera as a choice for the contemporary public to make in their leisure options in the last year or so. On Wednesday, July 11, 2012 the publicity department of Opera Australia achieved what must be a wonderful thing, two articles on the same day in the same paper, The Sydney Morning Herald. The first, on the front page, believe it or not! Banner headline: "Marriage of Figaro and footy will be a giant leap for fans"- a photograph of AFL players leaping for a ball in front of the Opera House arches accompanied the article. It seems footy fans for the AFL Greater Western Giants games will enjoy half-time arias courtesy of opera choirs with AFL players returning the favour by giving motivational talks to performers (I hope they video Cheryl Baker listening to the motivational talk, before she goes on to sing SALOME, or, guest soprano, Latonia Moore, just before AIDA, next week. Should be good reality television, don't you think?). On the Arts Page, same day, another article "Opera Australia taps into singers in the suburbs" concerning choir practice out at Campbelltown Catholic Club as part of The Community Choirs Project. All good stuff, for the Opera Company to be seen as an active member of the the community, a model of cultural outreach, indeed. The Government will definitely love it and take note. So, it should. "I have always believed there are parallels between sport and opera,' said Mr Terracini, whose approach to opera has included warning opera singers to shape up or ship out…" (maybe the singers can join the training sessions with the footy blokes in return for singing lessons?), "…staging opera on the harbour (LA TRAVIATA) and having orchestras play in different halls from the singers" - (Die tote Stadt). All very, "We're just like you football fans (freaks), except we like opera too. Maybe, you could as well - be an opera fan (freak)".

This and other 'populist' conversations that Mr Terracini has had with the press, radio and television are indeed great examples of recipes for bringing Opera to the attention of the general public. But, still, the proof that opera is a vibrant contemporary choice, that all this work by the artistic, corporate and publicity employees of Opera Australia, must add up to  palatable 'puddings' that we can 'eat': that is see and hear and 'swallow', the work in the theatre. No matter the hype, it is, surely, the final test of the great experience of the Opera, the performance. It will warrant the success of the Company.

And, if Die tote Stadt is an example of the new opera company for contemporary audiences at its best, than I must be crazy. For it was, by and large, in my experience, abominable. An excruciating night in the theatre. If any of Mr Terracini's converts, AFL supporters or otherwise, are persuaded to attend this production they may never go again. All that effort for nothing. LA TRAVIATA on the harbour, all those fire works, all that sweating on the rain gods, all those choirs in the suburbs of Sydney, for nothing.

Now, I must declare that I am no expert in music. I simply attend it. Whatever the musical standard of preparation and performance may have been for this performance, it is not my territory of expertise. The music critics can judge that better than I. And, what I did hear, seemed, mostly, OK. The experiment with the orchestra downstairs in the Studio (as the orchestra required for this work is too huge to fit in the pit), conducted by Christian Badea, while Assistant Conductor, Anthony Legge (I assume) signalled the singers, in the theatre, was finely balanced. Tony David Cray, the Sound Designer, deserves high praise and recognition. The choir coming through the speakers in the latter part of the opera, perhaps, would have been better present around the auditorium, as in past productions e.g. FAUST - the stereo sound may have been more present.

However, musically, what I do wonder is, is the voice of Stefan Vinke, who sang the extraordinarily difficult role of Paul, the hero, too big for this hall? - I felt some of the guest singers that Simone Young had invited to sing in this theatre, in her Artistic time, were too big for the space, as well - the sound coming from Mr Vinke, and I was sitting in the Stalls, Row R, seat 26, seemed to be enormous, and I apprehended it as loud to blaring, with little real modulation? It became a little monotonous to the ear. And it seemed to me that Cheryl Barker, as Marie/Mariette, to balance her co-lead, was forced to sounds that were also noisy, loud, and full of vibrato. Is it, that, if the orchestra were in the pit that that musical 'scoring', on the page, was to overcome the volume of the orchestra, but in this case where the orchestra was being modulated through electronics, from a distant studio, that no adjustment had been made? I, merely, seek information, for other than Mr Vinke beginning a little raggedly, and I seeing an apparition of an arm from the prompt side of the wings proffer in its hand, a glass of water, which was drunk, in front of us, by Mr Vinke, (not seeing this kind of 'thing' since my experience in Shanghai at a performance of one of Madame Mao's opera/musicals, where puffs of smoke from a back stage staff also wafted onto the theatrical action, a pulled back tab curtain revealing the culprit!), before his next eruption of sound, the water having smoothed away the "rags", one was in awe of the concentration and stamina of Mr Vinke and Ms Barker. Of the other singers, Jose Carbo as Fritz and Deborah Humble as Brigitta were arresting in their modest opportunities.

The Director of this work, Bruce Beresford, with his Designer John Stoddart have produced a design solution for this work that is an uncomfortable, disconcerting visual puzzle. Together they have created a setting of a room in the hero of the opera, Paul's house, in Bruges, in which, since the death of his wife, Marie, he has preserved mementos, alongside a portrait of her. It has become 'a shrine of the past'. It is at an enormous scale with large wallpapered side walls and a huge veiled back wall, that can be raised to reveal projected scenic views of the city outside. Furniture is clinging to the side walls, a glass cabinet on one side wall, and on the other a conventional, small, hall stand to hang clothes, umbrellas etc., except for a small table and two chairs just off centre, prompt side. It has the look of a gigantic vestibule - an odd public space that, for me indicated an intermediate space from the outside to the main rooms - hardly that of a shrine in remembrance. The most peculiar interior design, architectural contribution, however, is the entry to this space, which is via a large u-shaped staircase - one lower end in the wings, entering and rising diagonally into the space, with ornate period railings, and the other end, declining well into the room. Just what was the architectural reality of this fancy and cumbersome stair entrance, I could not help being distracted, thoughtfully by.

I did find some, albeit, unhappy solution to the peculiarity to this interior design problem, when the second act commenced, and I saw that the same staircase had been brought onto stage and was now doubled as a bridge across a canal in the scenic solution to: "A Square in Bruges". I gathered that the libretto had invented this story as a neurotic dream sequence for Paul, and, so, I began to wonder whether the staircase in the interior of the house for act one and three was also some projection by Paul, of the bridge in the second act? Some Freudian allusion? or, just budget lunacy? (all spent on the harbour TRAVIATA? Who knows?) Whatever? It was really very strange. I, sadly concluded, it had to be for budget or space reasons. (N.B. Bridge in above photograph is also the interior staircase for the room in Act One and Three)

Mr Beresford, is a very famous film director. In this production he has had designed Scenic Projection Images (Resolution Design. Creative Director, Tim Dyoff. Designers: Dylan McIntyre, Daniel Symons, Anthony Hayes. Executive Producer, Kent Boswell). In the first and third act, the interior veil, blind is raised at the back wall and blue tinted moving images are screened of the outside city of Bruge. Sometimes images are broadcast across the whole of the set, murkily. These images are haunting and give the character of the dead city a real presence. The metaphor of Bruge is a looming literary conceit of the novel, apparently, and is also in this libretto. It is unfortunate that in the third act we realise that these brooding images are on a loop and that the film repeats itself in a very obvious way (budget again?). One's mind is entirely distracted for the wrong reasons.

In the second, outdoor act, projected images loom at the back of the stage. This is a contemporary element of design, metaphorical, haunting and impactful. Or, they would be, if the rest of the set had the same kind of aesthetic. Instead, Mr Beresford and Stoddart have contrived on one side of the stage, as a kind of proscenium mask, a realistic, full height, tall, brick convent like edifice, with a practical doorway to allow the nuns to enter and exit, topped with gold, moving bells that toll like ridiculous robotic cartoons, making sometimes no noise at all; and, on the other side of the proscenium, a matching realistic facade of a large brick house with practical front door, and, also, large gold bells on the top, similarly tolling a computer generated pattern - soundless, unless, co-ordinated, generally, by the score of Mr Korngold. Two huge, dominating realistic pieces of scenery from a handbook of design circa 1880, framing projected visual images circa design 1990, compete in a struggle for aesthetic vicissitude. It just doesn't work. But worse is to come.

The stage space is perforce small and unfortunately, the opera requires a troupe of actors to arrive across the bridge (the first act staircase), crowding the space calamitously, dressed in the most outlandish silver-white costumes, ever I have seen on this stage. (see Photograph above - it a cropped image !) On top of that there is a dance. The choreography and the standard of dance is so woeful that one winces to relieve watching it (Choreography, Timothy Gordon). Were these costumes designed for the performers movement abilities or the tiny space or...???? If ever a photograph of this actual setting with this costume design and staging, were taken, there could not be further proof needed that this stage reduces this company to artistic offers worse than the worst of provincial opera houses or provincial theatres that I have attended. Rockdale Opera where are you? I thought. How did this happen? When did Mr Terracini see the design decisions (too late, it seems!) and why did he think they would be worthy of his touted new Opera Australia Company? Is it the reputation of Mr Beresford and Mr Stoddart that seduced or overrode his Artistic Director sensibilities? What happened?

Die tote Stadt at this level of production, no matter if it is sung well or not, musically ingenious or not, cannot bear close examination as a reasonable choice for the dollars of a contemporary audience. This opera is too large in every way for this dinky theatre. DINKY THEATRE. Fit the work to the stage. Help us believe in it. Stop deluding us with a sense of real possibility. The pit is always too small - ask the musicians. The stage is too small - ask the craftsmen and mechanics. It is an entirely unsuitable space for the opera company for most of its work. Either have a theatre that permits great things to happen or hand the funding to some other form that can aspire to this. Opera Australia cannot be an International Company of high reputation in such a space.

I am sure that Mr Teracini and Mr Collette and members of their Board know this. Why can't the governments that want Sydney to be this World Centre (the tourist dollar) bite the bullet? Many, many years ago, someone else in government did. (Premier Cahill). Think big picture, not little. I prefer to see dance in Melbourne or the Capitol Theatre. I prefer my Opera there as well. The huge arts re-construction in the big centre down in Melbourne reflects a Big Vision for the Arts, and will shift all competition between cities completely away. Invest in the Harbour, and the tiled arches of the Utzon design, to keep them sparkling. Forget about any thing else. Put your vaudeville, Contemporary Ideas-think sessions, bread and circus, hip-hop acts, celebrities in the building. Shift the name away from the Sydney Opera House to the fast becoming Sydney Performing Arts Complex and we may have it right. The commercial wing of the House management are getting it right. It recognises there is no market in the ARTS with a capital A in Sydney. Take me to Melbourne. Shift the Opera Company to Melbourne. The Victorian Arts Centre can accommodate it. Isn't that why the Opera Australia "Ring" is being done there? (tickets on sale, now). I'm going down there to catch it. Just as some of us travelled to Adelaide.  Adelaide/Sydney? Sydney does not have a theatre that can accommodate it. Too true. I'd rather see the Opera as a guest company at the Lyric or Capital than at the Sydney Opera House.

I found the visual choices of this production disappointing and worse embarrassing. This year in Sydney, via the Metropolitan Opera High Definition broadcasts - I have seen the New York Metropolitan Opera Company present many pieces of work. True, on the big screen but, still, impressively (like Die tote Stadt, the sound is technologically produced but it is superior in every way). If one wants to see a cutting edge theatre company, let alone Opera Company, merely witness the Robert La Page "Ring" cycle. To be even more dazzled look at the Metropolitan's production of Philip Glass' SATYAGRAHA - a work of design and interpretative brilliance that belongs on a 21st century stage. Look at their productions of the 'war horses' - LA TRAVIATA etc and weep. At $23 -$29, a steal. I say go to the Orpheum, the Chauvel, The Dendy, the Verona with your money, time and patronage until our government thinks again.

I know the Metropolitan in New York is the greatest, or one of the greatest opera houses in the world. The Metropolitan infrastructure, stage and budget allow it to be so. It is absolutely stupid for Australia, Sydney, to claim to be an International city or a centre for the arts. Or even to have ambition to be so without immediate action. The Sydney Opera House is externally a Wonder of the World - that is the tourist attraction, not what happens inside it. None of the present theatres can command that reputation. While Government continue the delusion that the world comes to Sydney to see the arts the more disastrous the future will be. A running gag about Australia and Opera in the National Theatre production, ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS by Richard Bean, raised no laughter in the Sydney audience I saw it with (at the Chauvel). We know about opera in Australia and it is no laughing matter. Sydney needs a theatre that can create, at proper scale, the Great Performing Arts for the 21st Century. We do not need another Casino Mr Packer, Mr O'Farrell but a new Opera Theatre. How about it, Mr Packer? How about it Mr O'Farrell? Barangaroo or bust, I reckon. Casino for a decent Opera House. The Packer Family Opera House. Or, the Gina Theatre!

Die tote Stadt, whatever its virtues, finally got me riled with enough enraged humiliation for our Opera Company, I just had to say, what Dame Edna would, should, if she could. Barry, don't retire, create a new character to advocate for a decent Opera House, performance space, post haste.

Julia, Tony, tax the rich and call it philanthropy, benevolence. Say, your 'gunna' do it, 'garn'. Bi-partisan agreement. Garn.....

1. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley sadie. Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1980.

Friday, July 13, 2012


A Critical Stages and The Follies Production of SYNCOPATION by Allan Knee at The Concourse Theatre, Chatswood.

SYNCOPATION by Allan Knee, an American text, opened on Tuesday night at the new Concourse Theatre in Chatswood (great space). It was this production's 41st venue on a long and extensive tour over the last five months. It moves on to Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, Wollongong, next week and finishes (I think) out at the Riverside Theatre complex at Parramatta the week after. I reckon it is worth making an effort to see.

SYNCOPATION is a two-hander, two act play. It is set in New York in 1912. Henry Ribolow (Justin Stewart Cotta), a 38 year old Jewish meat packer places an advertisement in the paper for a dance partner. Many times over many months. He has little success in attracting a reply. Then, one evening, Anna Bianchi (Emma Palmer), a young Catholic seamstress, turns up at his studio/apartment, at the top of a walk-up residential building. Anna doesn't know why she has replied, does not know why she is there, she has never danced before, just an urge, but, it is, in this play, the first of many steps that she takes in breaking the rules, an ordinary iconoclast, in her restricted world. These two odd-coupled people begin a journey of personal growth as they investigate the possibility of being dancing partners, envisioning, gradually, the dream of being some kind of ballroom dancing stars. Oddly, at the bottom of the mirrored wall - the magic fourth wall of the theatre, the actors engage us face on with this theatrical convention, directly communicating with us, totally disarmingly - there is an autograph of two dancers: Irene and Vernon Castle - two, to-be-famous dancers of the period. More than that happens,in the play, of course, and the personal journey of Henry and Anna becomes, ultimately, as important as the 'professional' dance one.

Sounds pulpy, doesn't it?

It is, but the shtick is cunningly, gently, entwined in a political background of social upheaval and change, encouraged by the technological developments, swiftly revealing themselves at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, in this 'melting pot city', with its Statue of Liberty dominating part of the skyline, in this land of the free. All is potential, and all is possible.

The world  is 'exploding' outside this dance studio. Mr Cotta and Ms Palmer bring all that world imaginatively into the dance space of the actual play. We see the outside worlds peopled vividly through the magic of the actors' talents. The dance practice becomes a means to illustrate and identify as metaphor, the bigger picture of the frantic and optimistic surge of the new century, struggling against old traditions and prejudices. E.L. Doctorow's RAGTIME (and the cumbersome 1981 film by Milos Forman) and Sergio Leone's film, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984) , all flood back from my memory banks, and support the wealth of these actor's imaginations, and illuminate the play, as I watch this performance.

The design (Adrienne Chisholm) is, perforce of the production being a touring show, a simple representation: a green wallpapered back wall, with window, door and built-in cupboard, laden with many, many female dance shoes, and a worn wooden board floor. There is also an opaque screen, artistically utilised for visual period 'sketch' support of period and private character 'fantasy' moments. The costumes, especially those of Ms Palmer, have the appearance and flair of the period and more importantly, conducive for dance aesthetics. Lighting, by reliable Luiz Pampolha, atmospheric, if a little general (Tour restrictions, I suppose). The Sound Design, however (Darrin Verhagen), is acutely detailed and nuanced, and relaxingly familiar, embracing sound and music of this era of dance, with the joyful syncopated 'ragged' rhythm of, say, Scott Joplin (remember the soundtrack and subsequent craze for his music emanating from the 1973 film, THE STING), coming to dominate the proceedings, powerfully, as the show progresses.

The director Stephen Lloyd Helper keeps a tight but delicate hand on the proceedings, never overplaying that hand. Deceptively, light. SYNCOPATION, playing at nearly two and a half hours with just two actors on stage, needs actors of real interest and stamina to hold and sustain our interest. Here, Mr Helper has found two wonderful performers and seems to have given them clear boundaries to invest in, and yet, all the space they want, to 'play' and create. Both these actors take on the challenge of what could be simple, direct musical theatre, sentimental impersonations and, instead, invest Henry and Anna with the unpredictable life force of frail, contradictory, fallible human beings. Real people.

It is clear that Mr Cotta is not a natural ballroom dancer, if, a dancer at all. What he appears to be is an actor who can move and has the iron discipline and will to fulfil the imaginings of Mr. Knee. Mr Knee sees Henry as a dancer, Mr Cotta believes Henry is one too, no matter Henry's ageing inadequacies, and that is what Mr Cotta delivers. The near final moments when Henry puts on a sequined vest that is now too small for him is deeply affecting for the naked courage of the actor to create a too true realisation (- tour eating, the actor confessed!) - pathetic, and still, self deprecatingly comic, because of the depth of truthful recognition and revealed identification by Mr Cotta. The blind sense of Henry's own 'beauty' is courageously played by Mr Cotta and his Henry is someone the audience can easily identify with, with great affectionate gulps of pathos. The choices that Mr Cotta brings to the creation of Henry are staggeringly diverse and wonderfully surprising, all with a true artist's instincts for a truth and love of his character. Clearly, Mr Cotta sees the opportunities for an actor in the role of Henry Ribolow, and plays them to the hilt. It is a more than satisfying performance. It is really good acting - a rarity, really.

Ms Palmer, as a dancer, on the other hand, in contrast to Mr Cotta, seems to have dancing skills galore and brings such wit and elegance to Anna as, necessarily, at the beginning of the play, a 'clod hopper', to, finally, a very accomplished performer, that one is entranced, choreographically, with her every gesture. In Mr Cotta, Ms Palmer has found a support to her physical expression and the innate trust that they appear to have on stage, as partners, is palpable. Ms Palmer is no debutante, either, in the acting stakes, and she has created a young naive woman of the period, Anna Bianchi, that blossoms, not only on the dance floor as a dancer, but, also intellectually and politically as an American citizen of the new century. It is a Pygmalion story as Anna transcends her teacher and takes off - the ending of this work is a little more romantic that the tough one that Mr Shaw gave us earlier this year, though. Ms Palmer has Anna blazing transfixedly in a confrontation with her Henry in an especially memorable moment in the second act.

Both these actors are highly intelligent and courageous with their gifts. In each other, it appears, at this end of a long tour, that they have, as well, found another artist that can, and will match their creative insights and juices. They reveal a voracious imaginative response to the characters, the world of the play and to each other. It is a pleasure to witness and lifts this skilful but schmaltzy play of a classic American genre into other, better stratospheres. It was most surprising and wonderfully satisfying.

Lastly, but no means least, there is a lot of dancing in this show and what makes the work lift magnificently is the crafted eye of the choreographer, Mark Hodge, who not only understands the dance and period he is evoking, but has managed to fit the movement to the actors and the actors to the movement. The integral intelligence of this is distinguishing and an immense asset to the play as experience. Congratulations.

Illawarra and Parramatta to go for the production. Find out where and when it is on and enjoy yourself. A well written play of its kind, made very rewarding as an audience experience by a gifted choreographer, syncopated music and two really marvellous actors giving their all to the lives of Henry and Anna. Mr Helper deserves credit for finding such 'syncopated' artists and managing them so felicitously. The audience I saw it with, laughed, cried and were very enthusiastic at the end of a long journey. We all bounced out to the bump of Mr Joplin.

N.B. I saw this on the night of Mr Keith Bain's funereal and wake. Both Ms Palmer and Mr Cotta are ex-students of Mr Bain. Those of us who had 'moved' our bodies for Mr Bain in Acting school, thought that these two artists exemplified his teaching and ideals for actors. We were moved doubly, for the two actors, and the evident legacy of the gentle master, Keith Bain.

P.S. Another theatre program without a writer's biography (see note at end of SHALLOW SLUMBER blog.) And, even worse, with NO information about the actors or the artistic team. What is it with the producers, A CRITICAL STAGE or THE FOLLIES COMPANY? I mean, just how much does an A4 copy cost of the artist's work? Disrespectful to the artists, and, too, to the audience, who may want to take home a record, of what otherwise is a very terrific night in the theatre.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Vale Keith Bain, 1926 – 2012

Keith Bain, photo by Stuart Campbell

Keith Bain passed on on Wednesday, 4th of July, 2012.

Keith Bain was modest and quietly, hugely influential in the formation of the Australian traditions in the performing arts. Keith, not alone, a much loved National Treasure that only those in the know knew how great he was. Keith Bain the Australian Artists' role model - without whom, many of us would have been a very different, and probably lesser human being. I can , definitely, say that about myself.

I think I first met Keith Bain at Doris Fitton's classes for actors at the old Independent Theatre at North Sydney - It is still there, believe it or not! I was at the back of a large group of desperate youths, hoping for the opportunity to be an actor.

In 1970 I began training at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in the Acting course. We had a movement teacher in first year called Margaret Barr (1904-1991). Ms Barr was a highly revered and excellent teacher, but her method was very intimidating. Those of us who toiled with her over our training flinch automatically into 'position' whenever we hear Carl Orff's CARMINA BURANA -" brush, brush forward, brush, brush back"! For Ms Barr we sweated and 'dreaded'. Climbing the wooden stairs to the Top Tote Studio was where one considered every possible excuse for not getting there. I always did get there and I always, strangely, loved how I felt coming down the stairs after each class. I felt wonderful despite my initial anxieties and I did develop, despite my proffered instrument for I moved on into the next year. Ms Barr was great.

In Second Year we had a different movement teacher, an elegant, long torsoed gentleman called Keith Bain. Two different teaching methods one could not possibly find so diametrically opposed. Climbing the stairs to the Top Tote Studio for Mr Bain, I was not in search of excuses for not going but always in an excited anticipation of a good time. Mr Bain took us in hand and I sweated just as hard for him as I did for Ms Barr, and, hopefully, developed sufficiently well. But what I did for Ms Barr with an earnest will, lots of sweat and a 'dread' of failing I did for Mr Bain with a joyous expectation. My body used to ache as much for Mr Bain as it did for Ms Barr, but Keith used to do it with a twinkle in his eye and a lot of laughter. I remember being flat out on my back, on the old Top Tote floor, lifting my upper torso with outstretched hands, stretched in 'agony' up, up towards the smiling, encouraging face and open hearted enthusiast Mr Bain. I could not have worked harder on a recalcitrant body than I did for this remarkable and gifted man.Mr Bain was great and so much fun to work and be with.

I know my body was not very flexible and I achieved what I did, to gain that smile of approval from Keith. I passed, I reckon, because I sweated for him. LOTS. Keith, also, was the choreographer for our shows. I remember being in The Old Tote Theatre (now the Fig Tree Theatre - remarkably, still there - kudos the University of NSW for caring for history) in the 1971winter, (41 years ago!!) in our black leotards, with fitted cup !, bare feet and naked upper body, with a black knotted rope dangling out the back of our tights as tails,(our costume!!) as we learnt a dance for the HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING sequence of PEER GYNT to the music by Grieg on a very steep raked floor. Hilarious, intense and joyous. We spun faster and faster to the climax of Grieg's score, whipping each other teasingly, with our flaring tails.

I was never a good dancer (except Ballroom) but I was a good "mover". A lot of my work was, and still is entered from a physical entry point, and later in my professional career, both in the the theatre and television it was always with a sigh of relief to see it was Mr Bain who was to choreograph our work for us. He came to our rehearsal spaces and we were greatly relieved. He had an eye for detail and a way to make us all feel brave and confident no matter the complication of the dance style for that show. He also had enormous empathy for us who were shy and 'afraid' of our two left feet and wayward arms and hands. His presence was always a pacifying one for us non-dancers. Actors that could move , if not dance. We did it for him, and it felt just right and great to do.

He got me my first professional job : backstage as a spotlight operator for an outdoor presentation of John Antill's CORROBOREE, somewhere out there in the Sutherland Shire in 1970 or '71. (maybe he knew something - clearly, I didn't pay attention to that. Just kidding , Keith).

I graduated, worked in the industry, and then worked with Keith as a colleague, member of staff at NIDA. He was a great and patient mentor for me as I became his 'boss' for a little while. He became a mostly wise and watchful guardian to my endeavours as Head of the Acting Course (1984-1988) and then as an Acting Teacher (from the year dot, on and off, till 2011). He was on the scholarship panel for the NSW Ministry that encouraged me to study in the USA at the American Conservatory Theatre. (A huge turning point for me as an artist.) He always invited me to his Christmas Party - I went as often as I could. Lots of food (old style) and friends. Friends and friends.

In later, recent years, after he had reluctantly retired from regular teaching, he still came to NIDA every Thursday to watch the young acting students do their movement pieces. A program of work he had introduced to the Acting Course and sustained by Julia Cotton and Anca Frankenhaeuser - two of his students and apostles. Even those recent students knew that a very special man had come to see them. His presence radiated out. He practised what he preached. "Radiate, radiate, radiate. Give, give, give." They hung on every word he offered. He was often moved to tears by the students' work. He even, still, used to teach 'the barn dance' to the whole school for the Orientation Bar-b-cue. We all rollicked with him. Keith was still the man I talked to most about the latest dance shows I, we, had seen in Sydney. He was just as keen eyed and just as gently but accurately, critically responsive to all that he saw. I always got a perspective from him that I had not necessarily seen. When he approved what I had thought, I glowed.

I loved Keith for all this professional work and devotion. But one of my great and precious memories of Keith is his close and deep relationship with his dear Mother, Kath, who like Keith, lived for a long time. A country lady with the glow of expectant discovery always around her and a pride and joy in her boy, Keith. When I see lamingtons, I think of her.

For all who never knew Keith Bain and his legacy, there is a book KEITH BAIN ON MOVEMENT, edited by Michael Campbell and published by Currency Press in 2010, that will enlighten you all, and, ought to be required text for any aspiring actor, movement artist, dancer, director.

Julia Cotton - a colleague from Keith's years at NIDA, has prepared the following eulogy for Keith, that I present here with her permission:

KEITH BAIN 1926 – 2012

Keith grew up in Wauchope in Northern NSW where music and dance were part of his life from an early age. His first job at age 19 was teaching at a boy’s high school in Sydney. After about 8 years he gave up school teaching to train with Gertrud Bodenwieser a highly respected Modern Dance pioneer originally from Vienna. Bodenwieser was a very strong influence on Keith and he soon joined and became a valuable member of her Company continuing to perform for the company until she died in 1959. A solo piece for Keith was the last thing she choreographed.

When Keith was first training with Bodenwieser he also trained as a ballroom teacher and became an instructor for the Arthur Murray Studio. He soon became dance director, staff trainer and teacher of advanced students. In 1959 he started teaching for Doris Fitton at The Independent Theatre, his first experience with actors and ‘movement’ as opposed to dance. He also choreographed and performed for television in the 60s when live shows were very popular.

Wanting to keep the Bodenwieser style and philosophy alive Keith, along with another company member, Margaret Chapple, continued to teach for the Bodenwieser Studio. They also introduced new dance styles and the Bodenwieser Studio became the most popular studio in Sydney – Keith’s classes were packed and soon other teachers from international companies were giving classes there too. Meanwhile Keith continued teaching Ballroom and Latin American and also competing, becoming Exhibition Champion in the early sixties. He was a highly impressive performer but he also confounded the judges with his distinctive dance style. This later became the subject of the highly successful feature film "Strictly Ballroom" by Baz Lurrhman.

He worked with singers and actors on many musicals and plays amongst them "Jesus Christ Superstar", Reg Livermore’s one man shows and the Operas of Gilbert and Sullivan with Dennis Olsen. In 1965 he was invited to teach at NIDA. At this time the focus was on developing new Australian plays, presented at the Jane Street and Nimrod Theatres. Keith worked on many productions and with many collaborators – "The Legend of King O’Malley" and "Biggles" both directed by John Bell for instance. 

Keith not only taught for the NIDA Acting program from 1965 to 2005 Keith (given a full time position by visionary,John Clark) he also established under the auspices of Tony Knight, then Head of the Acting Course,The Movement Studies postgraduate course in 1991 and, together with Avigail Herman, set up the part-time Music Theatre Course run by NIDA's Open Program.

Keith was instrumental in encouraging new choreographic talent in the dance world through his work with Ballet Australia and also, with Dame Peggy Van Praagh setting up summer schools in Armidale. He helped establish committees and organisations - the original Australia Council, the International Theatre Institute, Ausdance among others. He travelled overseas as a delegate for the ITI and was also a judge on international dance competitions. He established the Dancers Picnic which later became the Australian Dance Awards.

Over the years Keith contributed such an enormous amount to the performing arts that he received a number of prestigious awards himself – awards for services to Theatre – Queen Elizabeth Jubilee medal, Awards for services to dance education and a lifetime Achievement Award from the Australian Dance Awards, he was also the recipient of an Australian Artists Creative Fellowship Award and the Order of Australia Medal.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Shallow Slumber

 G.Bod Theatre in association with NIDA Parade Theatres presents SHALLOW SLUMBER by Chris Lee in the NIDA Parade Studio.

 SHALLOW SLUMBER is a small two-hander by Irish playwright (lives in London), Chris Lee. It concerns the relationship between a Social Worker, Moira (Rebecca Johnston) and a mother, Dawn (Catherine Terracini). Mr Lee, himself a social worker, has written over 30 plays and sees theatre as a source for social change.

 SHALLOW SLUMBER was written in response to a case of a child death and the subsequent press reaction to the role of the social worker. Mr Lee set out to present a situation that could demonstrate the human complexities surrounding the social worker and their interactions with their "clients" and how easy it is for human frailties, on both sides, to rise to the surface, and obfuscate the problems and their possible solutions. It was a gesture to de-demonise the social worker and help to understand the mother in this kind of situation. The play may feel overtly socially conscious. On being both Playwright and Social Worker, Mr Lee says, "At worst this can lead me to view the world through catastrophe-tinted spectacles. At best, it provides the privilege of insight into lives, just hanging on in the desperate spaces…" of the world.

 This production by Director Peter Mountford, is modest in its resources (Design, Anya Tamsin) and achieves a performance, over nearly 90 minutes, that demands of the audience, an empathetic concentration. The play is told in Three Acts in reverse order of time. The first as Dawn is released from prison. The second around a visit in prison by Moira to Dawn. The third and last, on the night of a terrible discovery. Some of the text has been edited and there is, what feels to be an imposition of a choreographic element of 'dramatic dance' throughout the performance, that in combination does not seem to enhance the revelations of the writer but rather distract and puzzle us.

 The play takes hold, despite the physical theatre-interludes, in the dramatic textual embodiment by these two actors. Ms Terracini is solid and grounded in the gripping revelations of a woman suffering through a life of unfair obstacles and is matched against the awkward, slightly bewildered, inexperienced, social worker created by Ms. Johnston. Each of the scenes begin slowly and gather speed and tension.

 This production of the play was not difficult to watch, but, other than it has two good roles for two women to create, the reason for the play been done did not find its justification. Neither the position of the social worker or the case history of the mother is really elucidated clearly in this production - whether that is because of the play editing or the added dance elements, I am not sure. In London where it was presented at the Soho Theatre in January it was sold as a play 'for social workers everywhere and anyone with a heart." See what you think.

 P.S. SHALLOW SLUMBER has no information about the creator of this work, Chris Lee, in the program. Without him no one involved would be doing anything. The writer wrote and his word was made flesh, for goodness sake. For ethical reasons, if no other, give the writer his/her due!! Similarly, THE HIGHWAY CROSSING did not have any bio-graphical information about Jaan Tatte, the Estonian writer.

What is this? The writer does not exist or something? Is it a sign of the attitude of our creative artists that the writer is the least important contributor to a production? Simply a resource to be exploited? I just don't get it. I would have thought that the writer was the instigator of everyone else's input to what happens on the stage, and therefore the most indispensable. The most important figure to record a history about?

 Boy, does it make me sad.

 And angry.