Wednesday, September 6, 2017

American Beauty Shop

Some Company and Oleg Pupovac in association with bAKEHOUSE present
AMERICAN BEAUTY SHOP, by Dana Lynn Formby, in the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), at the Kings Cross Hotel. August 31 - September 16.

AMERICAN BEAUTY SHOP, is an American play, by Dana Lynn Formby, written 2015.

It begins in the dark with a radio news bulletin reporting on the culpability of the Lehman Brothers and the resultant Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008. We are then brought to Cortez, Colorado, into the basement Beauty Shop belonging to Sue (Amanda Stephens Lee), where she's re-located from main street, as a result of that crisis. Sue is a struggling business woman with a fading traffic of old customers, like Helen (Jill McKay), with a stand-by loyal help-mate, Meg (Charmaine Bingwa). She has two things going for her, she believes: a hair product which she has invented and is going to patent to make her fortune, having saved a $1000 to do just that, and Judy (Caitlin Burley), a bright daughter who is possibly going to win a scholarship for Berkeley University to study Chemical Engineering that may lead to an upwardly mobile trajectory for the family. Judy's future is what Sue has 'slaved' for.

Sue is a single mum, having got pregnant, with Judy, without a man to take some responsibility with her. Her sister, Doll (Janine Watson), too, got pregnant and had a child, which died. The cycle of the struggle against poverty and the frustrated hopes of aspiration, especially for single women, are what this play is all about. (There are no men in this play). So, when Judy reveals that she is pregnant, to a local boy, the dilemma of whether she ought to abort the child (with mum's saved money) or possibly thwart her university study and future by keeping it, becomes the grist of this drama.

There is some good, if predictable, writing, though,the situation and the characters are tiresomely familiar which makes the first act a very long exposition and set-up for a much more interesting second act of confrontations. And it is then that the actors pull out some strong offers to keep this play alive for a patient audience.

In trying to puzzle the problems of the production - its relative inertia - as the narrative is so familiar, I wondered if the production had to be more of a character study opportunity, that might have made it  a more engaging dramatic entanglement. For, under the Direction of Anna McGrath, none of these actors have developed their women beyond what the action dictates and one wishes that there was more insight into the frustrations, eccentricities and needs that drive these women - I kept thinking of the characters in plays like STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1987), CRIMES OF THE HEART (1979), and , even further, of the recent GFC themed recovery films and the characters drawn in them: HELL AND HIGH WATER (2016) and LOGAN LUCKY (2017) - though these films deal with mostly men at the centre of the work.

This naturalistic play is Designed by Ellen Stanistreet for the KXT traverse space and the difficulties for that illusion, e.g. of the need for running water etc, provides some obstacle, whilst Liam O'Keefe lights the staging competently and the Sound Design, by Ellen Griffin, creates some atmosphere.

AMERICAN BEAUTY SHOP, is well done, (if, on my night,  a little 'wobbly' in its performance security) and that the play itself is a little underwhelming in narrative, character and content thematics. It is, however, an easy night out, to be sure.

N.B. This production set of companies have forgotten to give any biographical information about the writer. This is not unusual for productions in Sydney where the writer is sometimes disregarded. It is particularly distressing to see that the primary artist, Dana Lynn Formby, the writer, and the reason why, how, this work is being engaged, has no place in the program information.

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