Thursday, March 19, 2015

Freak Winds

Photo by Tim Levy

Red Lines Productions present, FREAK WINDS, by Marshall Napier, at the Old Fitzroy Theatre, Woolloomooloo, March 11 -29.

FREAK WINDS by Marshall Napier is having a revival production at the Old Fitz, where it was first presented in 1999. Mr Napier has written it, Directed it and Starred in it, again.

An insurance salesman, Harry Crumb (Ben O'Toole) is 'blitzing' the district for his company: Argyle, selling a new product to the local denizens. A freak wind blows Harry to the apartment-house of Ernest (Marshall Napier), seeking shelter, after his car has been crushed by an oak tree, and with the closing of the front door finds himself in an accelerating 'time' of danger in a very atmospherically damp cellar, permeated with an odd sense/smell of something rotting.

Called a "Gothic thriller" this present production reveals the work, instead, as a comic 'schlock-horror' journey of a definite B-grade feel. Think, the SAW films, especially the first one, SAW (2004), directed by James Wan. The script, or production, of FREAK WINDS, has none of the subtleties, of say, Ira Levin's ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), which, for me, is the apogee of this genre, and has none of the cleverness, of DEATHTRAP (also, by Ira Levin),  soon to be seen at The Eternity Playhouse.

The writing is standard genre structure and works best in the opening sequences of act one, as played by Mr Marshall and Mr O'Toole. The imaginative vocal energy and sound of these two actors, at a compelling velocity of delivery, keeps one's attention on the given circumstances of each of the characters with nary an opportunity to begin to consider the excesses or ridiculousnesses of it all. One's focus is swept along with the sheer believable, imaginative energetic commitment of both men, particularly, Mr O'Toole's, Harry. The speed and sound accuracies of word usage to build tension and imagery from both actors is a joy to get lost in.

It is with the entry of Myra in a wheel chair, Ernest's pretty but crippled daughter, that the production, and the play, loses its grip of us. Ms Bamford, as Myra, does not have the same imaginative and conviction of vocal powers to match those of her fellow players, and there develops a kind of becalming in the delivery of the word tension in the text and atmosphere of the play. The audience is thus permitted time to ponder the inconsistencies and clumsiness of the textual and staging oddities. Ms Bamford shows us an actor at work rather than a character in full flight. We are brought back to the Old Fitz Theatre stage instead of in the cellar of this odd family pairing of creepy father and daughter with weird designs on the hapless visitor.

The writing in the second act of the play seems, in the experience of it, weaker, and one becomes less and less involved and more an more aware of the frailties of it all.  Mr Marshall, as writer, breaking the second half of the play, into a number of scenes, especially for the build to the ultimate climax of the piece, weakens our ability to maintain any mounting belief to, and in, the last schlock action and imaged thrill of physical terror. It is, rather, an anti-climatic fizz.

Set Design by Lisa Mimmocchi creates a pungent sense of reality, although the revealed visual shocks are not as shocking as they could be. The lighting by Alexander Berlage up until these reveals, supports the horror layerings, as does the Sound Design, by Nate Edmondson.

FREAK WINDS, in this contemporary production does not hold up either as a Gothic thriller experience, or even a schlock-horror jaunt, to keep us truly satisfied. The legend of this play, of which one has been re-galed in the pre-publicity press, does not get re-enforced with this outing at the Old Fitz this time round, I'm sad to report. Mr O'Toole's work is arresting in its detail and confidence and the reason to attend.

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