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.


Unknown said...

Thanks for your comments Kevin Jackson. I believe the European tradition, particularly when it comes to new work when the actors often forsake precious rehearsal time for script development - would be particularly apt as regards this production, viz., the 'critic' doesn't 'review' the work until the last weeks of the season. Just because you wrote this doesn't make it real - in fact, this could have been a line from the play! Here's a contra view to yours - :-)

Unknown said...

hi Kevin,

I've two questions about the play, if you don't mind clarifying.

The complete change of Tyrelle's character was disorientating/out-of-the-blue. After he forces the girls to confess ie the gun episode, in the next scene he has his own show and has been persuaded to interview Anthony. It didn't make sense to me. Was it the writing or did I miss something?

Much was made of Currah enjoying the abuse. What was the point of this? It seemed to complicate the hoax issue because if she enjoyed it, is it still a "misery memoir"?


Kevin Jackson said...

Dear James,
I do think it was in the writing. Difficult turn around for the actor.
As to your other question, it is a long time ago. would need to read the play again.
Thanks for your curiosity.
I am sure the Griffinn have a site where you can contact the writer and broach him about it.

Kevin J.