|Photo by Laura Scrivano|
We sit in the cavernous Bay 17 and face a huge black-curtained void. When the performance commences we are confronted, quite closely, with a suited figure, in a specific, intimate kind of light, in a wide-armed gesture standing on a raised, small mirrored-floor oblong. The figure (Luke Mullins), with a visible face-microphone assisting, begins in an intimate sotto voce (with pronounced sibilant 'ss's'), a 50 minute conversation with his 'self'. This nameless figure reveals his job as that of a body double for a film actor, Kane - an actor of second/third tier suspense thrillers, adventures e.g. "Briefcase Bomb 2" (straight to DVD, we are told) - standing in for the cinematographer and director's needs to capture a 'hand' picking up a cup from a saucer; a 'hand' picking up a brief case; a 'body' walking slowly across a space; a 'body' standing in the middle of a lake with a wide armed gesture while a helicopter captures a very, very wide, distanced shot, over and over again.
In his meditations as his distanced, metaphorically 'cut-up' body, is been minutely captured in 'filmed' action, we learn of his delusional obsession with Kane and of his skewed belief in his own self importance and function as an 'artist'. Gradually, Kane's absence from the film set and his ultimate no-show, undermines this narcissist's identity, as he realises that without Kane he is 'a nothing' - like Frankenstein's monster, a man made up of 'parts', and never quite whole. In a panic he flees into the back of the void, which unravels and strips back as the huge draped curtains of the space fold back to leave him a small isolated figure - a figure of absolutely no importance, a small figure on the horizon, who without Kane does not really need to exist - we watch him shrinking. Perhaps, even disappearing? We have been a silent witness to the collapse of an ego (without even a name) and its ultimate disappointment.
LAKE DISAPPOINTMENT has been a long time writing collaboration between, Luke Mullins and Lachlan Philpott.
Mr Philpott has a record of playwriting and, for me, his outstanding hallmark, besides the usual social-realist gritty worlds he immerses us in (BISON, SILENT DISCO, TRUCK STOP, M.ROCK), is his poetic bent as a writer, his careful construct of words, of the rhythms of language, that makes, what reads like prose, poetry. COLDER (2006), an earlier work, is a dark 'poem', an examination, reflection, of the disappearance of a young man, without trace. Thematically this is the thin but recognisable connection to this work, LAKE DISAPPOINTMENT, for me. This monologue's major strength is Mr Philpott's usual wonderfully wrought language/text.
On the other hand, LAKE DISAPPOINTMENT is Mr Mullins first writing credit. There is, however, a familiar (similar) thematic content emphasis here, to Mr Mullins' past performance work, as he seems to re-explore the self-obsessed artist, in the writing here, and in the performance choices, that is an echo of his Tom Wingfield character in Eamon's Flack's take on Tennessee Williams', THE GLASS MENAGERIE, where there was a pain-staking, precious, obsession in filming, videoing, added to the subtext of that play's scenario; and further back when we recall his Thom Pain character in the Will Eno monologue: THOM PAIN (based on nothing) - ironically, that being a monologue where the character talks himself in to a some body, unlike this character that talks himself into no body, no one, nothing! - we can grasp a pattern of content, of influence.
The general audience applauded. The critics have lapped it up. "A must see." A "must be brought back again!" I, it seems, am an almost lone contrarian, for at the completion of this performance I sat and was confronted with the question of "WHO CARES?" I asked my theatre companion for that night, and they too, were bewildered. So, not quite alone.
I admired the form and skill of the writing but wearied of its content, or rather its lack of interesting substance. The intense and calculated external physicality of the actor was impressive (how fit is he?) amazing! I was struck by the bravura of the production choices made by the Director, Janice Muller, along with her Designer, Michael Hankin, and his assistant, Charlie Davis, assisted by Matt Cox's Lighting Design. I was, however, disappointed with the musical Composition/Sound Design of James Brown, thinking it to be filmic b-grade sentimentalised huffing and puffing. His score for TANGI WAI, last year was so brilliant, I expected more. I was reviled away from the text, by the whole of the execution of the Directorial and Designer offers which were, theatrically, way-over-the-top - grandiose, vulgar, for me - considering the banality of the content statement. Pretty and inventive distractions.
What had I been watching? I had witnessed at a grand scale the end of a 'superfluous man' - and I could not understand why I should care? Or, was that the point? That this was an enormous supercilious gesture by the creators, that was essentially only an impressive package, an audacious use of design and pyrotechnics, all impressive externals, all style, with no real substance? That the joke was that they believed we could be manipulated and swept away with what was only a highly decorative wisp, a thread of a nihilistic joke, about an almost disembodied figure, supposedly looking at 'the fragility of identity and its existence in the gap between inside and outside ...', and that they (and we) were ' exploring how you can communicate pieces of information from a completely subjective point of view'? That we could be as delusional as the figure in the play about the importance of this content. That this, even, was Art?
I wanted to shout that the production clothing had no substance of any importance to cover; that it was tedious; that it was a shocking waste of effort on most counts. If it ever returns, and it seems to me, it is problematic that it will, just on the extreme budgetary demand that it would make, but if ever it does, you might want to see it, to join a discussion. LAKE DISAPPOINTMENT, is palled, when standing beside other work I have seen similarly, lavishly, presented at Carriageworks, such as the afore mentioned TANGI WAI by Victoria Hunt, or SUPERPOSITION, by Ryoji Ikeda. Those works had both, substance-content and production values of a pyrotechnical flourish that extended, expanded, the observer, the participator, into seeing the world afresh, from a richly clear new perspective, giving one hope and faith in mankind and his inventiveness.
I keep hearing an echo of a derogatory view of the Oscar Wilde's, "Art for Art's Sake" musing, which I had read recently, where Art was seen by some to be without any significance, where purpose in Art is cast aside for the sake of mild leisure, where Art is simply feeding off Art, because this is what, I think, I felt in the experiencing of LAKE DISAPPOINTMENT. That it was a leisurely joke in the disguise of 'arty' production affects.
It was a tremendous disappointment (and, retrospectively, frivolous theatre) particularly since the work of Lachlan Philpott usually embraces muscularly what Robert Brustein wrote in an essay called, The Theatre of Revolt (1991): "Art should extend beyond itself to become an act of ethical reform, influencing public opinion, public action and public contribution ..." LAKE DISAPPOINTMENT was a disappointment on these counts. For, what usually occupies Mr Philpott in his play's content is a mission for care and understanding of the people on the fringes of society and their ways of behaving for survival. I did not feel any need to assist the nameless monologist of LAKE DISAPPOINTMENT, thinking he had no real life to need to pay attention too. This work was a great seduction to the 'dark side' where art is simply a self-indulgent game focused on the external stunning production wrappings.
Just what is wrong with playwriting in Australia? Why is it, mostly, so removed from the pulse, concerns of our real lives? Does anyone else care?