Posts Tagged ‘Practical Aesthetics

03
Feb
15

Boston Marriage

 

Boston Marriage

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

January 24 – February 15 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

AD LIBITUM

towards pleasure

 

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“Acting, which takes place in front of an audience, is not as the academic model would have us believe. It is not a test. It is an art, and it requires not tidiness, not paint-by-numbers intellectuality, but immediacy and courage…

 

In life there is no emotional preparation for loss, grief, surprise, betrayal, discovery; and there is none on stage either.”

David Mamet

 

Did you know? Despite the fact that Massachusetts, in 2004, became the first American state to legalise same-sex marriage, a “Boston Marriage” didn’t originally imply only a sexually active relationship, but also a platonic one between two women of independent means.

 

You might not know this either (I tend not to tell people so there’s no reason you would), but I’m not fond of flying. I KNOW. I don’t love it. In fact, I really don’t like it at all. I LOVE CRUISING. But I hate flying. I hate the hold-your-breath moments of the take off and the landing and I remember crying once all the way through a bit of bad turbulence. It was a flight to Hobart, a really looong flight, for a funeral. Typical. Way to set the mood, Universe…

 

This probably helps to explain why I’m not quite as well travelled as I would like to be (that, and my penchant for fine food and wine). On a plane, as soon as I’m seated, I click the belt closed, and check it, and tighten it to make my waist approximately size 4 (I’m already holding my breath in case something bad happens so no probs there), and all my energy goes into surviving enjoying that flight. I try to think I’m not even on a plane! Usually I try to do this by reading. I read A LOT. FAST. I read the safety chart, the papers, the in-flight mag, the script that Sam is supposed to be reading, the pages of whatever the person in front of me is reading (no, it’s not creepy; it’s resourceful) and at least one novel before we get to where we’re going. But the other week, coming home from Auckland, a movie caught my eye and I watched it. And I forgot I was miraculously supported in mid air by a complex set of mechanical and aerodynamical MIRACLES. It was Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight, starring Colin Firth. I was completely absorbed. And not entirely due to Colin Firth’s presence (yes, I’m a fan, which also explains Hugh Parker’s appeal, doesn’t it? I’ve mentioned that before). It’s a sweet, funny film.

 

Magic in the Moonlight follows Firth’s character as he attempts to unmask Emma Stone’s character. She claims she’s a mentalist, and runs around the country hosting séances with her MOTHER. ANYWAY, hosting or attending a séance was once A THING and it’s A THING that is used by David Mamet in Boston Marriage to a) add a presumably highly amusing plot twist and b) take away any sort of sense that he had almost begun making before any mention by his leading ladies of a séance. Magic in the Moonlight is really A LOVELY FILM. And Colin Firth and Emma Stone are really LOVELY. LOOK…

 

 

 

 

Now, what a very interesting conversation we can have about QTC’s production of Mamet’s Boston Marriage. This is the first show of the year for our state theatre company, and it’s certainly difficult, but it’s also quite delightful! (It was Mamet who said we come to the theatre to be delighted!). I say you’ll come to Boston Marriage and be delighted, and perhaps, well, possibly slightly disenchanted… Oh well!

 

 

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While Mamet is not always for everyone, this production, directed by Andrea Moor, a massive fan of Mamet and a Practical Aesthetics aficionado, offers an especially inviting point of access in her exceptional cast; strong performances that give us whole, hilarious characters. With a B-Grade plot (yes it’s Mamet but not as we know him), and characters and devices to distract us from the fact, Boston Marriage is an intentionally pretentious comedy of errors set in one lavish room featuring three female performers. It’s unique in Mamet’s repertoire, as he wrote mostly ghastly male characters; you’ll know the fast-talking guys in Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo and Speed-the-Plow (the latter was given new life at the cinema as Wag the Dog). Although there was something intriguing to Mamet about the power of a woman in a man’s world, this is the one play in which he explores women’s power over each other (and their support for one another), in an undeniably “feminine” chintz covered New England drawing room.

 

And the set is exquisite. It’s not as intimate as we might have expected, and nor should it be, the imposing columns standing as the rest of society might – just out of reach and privy to every word and deed from the fringes, if only for the entertainment of their highly critical self entitled social circles.

 

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Designer, Stephen Curtis, has created an ancient temple of love sans decay and crumbling stone because everything here has, of course, cost a pretty penny. Of course, not one cent of it is Anna’s (Amanda Muggleton); she has attracted the attention of a married man who “keeps” her. He doesn’t know it, but the bargain Anna has struck with him is part of her attempt to re-snare her lifelong friend, Claire (Rachel Gordon). Claire stops by to ask if she may bring her young friend to the apartment and if she may have Anna’s assistance in the seduction of the pretty young thing. Anna, being the cheeky c…. cat that she is, agrees to assist her, er, dear friend, as long as she may watch.

 

A maid from the Orkney Islands (Helen Cassidy) bears the brunt of the couple’s learned upper class malice and, it should be said, their ignorance about anybody other than themselves. Insert mistaken Irish heritage banter and plenty of potato famine jokes here. The plot – what little there is of it – takes a turn when it is discovered that the young friend and the married man are connected, and the maid is accused of stealing an emerald necklace gifted to Anna by the gentleman.

 

 

“It is the writer’s job to make the play interesting. It is the actor’s job to make the performance truthful.”

David Mamet

 

 

These women are aggressive, they are written that way and many lines are delivered in bold, brassy, sassy terms. Some are shouted. Sometimes it’s effective and sometimes it ain’t. These well-heeled Edwardian women know what they want and they know they can have it…or can they? There are lovely moments of vulnerability and tenderness, giving us glimpses into another side to these beautifully crafted characters, but they are short-lived and ultimately, we see the women as Mamet sees them, through a man’s eyes. Interestingly, each is aware – of course she is – of the other’s immense suffering but even under the guise of refinement and polite conversation (not to mention the intimacy and respect of a long-standing relationship), some comments and criticisms cannot be undone. But they can be accepted…

 

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Helen Cassidy, as the Scottish maid Catherine, delivers a nicely measured performance of physical comedy and tempered timing (although there are a couple of times when the pause following most entrances is a touch too long). To her merit, Cassidy’s performance prompted after the show the story of a production elsewhere, in which the long-term subscriber telling the tale HAD NOT ACTUALLY REMEMBERED THE MAID IN THE SHOW. In stark contrast, Cassidy’s performance is unforgettable. If we were going to do old-school character arcs with secondary students, we’d look at Cassidy’s maid. Hers is quite the journey.

 

 

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Rachel Gordon is truly radiantly beautiful (she could have been a face of Lancome…she might be yet!), and there are times when her lusty, wanton manner of speaking drops to a delicious purr, up there (down there?) with Eartha Kitt and Meow Meow. She’s the perfect foil for Amanda Muggleton, who is just as fabulous as we had expected her to be, perhaps more so. In sharpening the edge of every word and playing up every nuance between them, Muggleton creates a character better than even Mamet might have imagined. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and I can’t help feeling I wish I’d seen more of her recent touring work.

 

QTC Artistic Director, Wesley Enoch, spoke after the show about David Walters’ lighting design in terms of a fragrance. He was spot on. He explained that it has its base notes, heart notes and top notes. I would go so far as to say Walters’ lighting lends an oriental woody feel to the production: woody, honey base notes, patchouli, lily and pine heart notes, and jasmine and rose top notes. It’s a work of art. It all feels as if IT’S VERY EXPENSIVE.

 

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I think this is the best way to look at Boston Marriage overall – it’s a loud, lovely looking work of art, a savvy contemporary collector’s piece, brimming with ascorbic wit and some very obscure references (by all means, glance at the glossary in your program but don’t spoil your evening by poring over it!). It will appeal to some and be a source of irritation for others. Unfortunately, it has to be said, the final moments are disappointing; the ending is surprisingly droll rather than superbly passionate. I feel it’s misjudged, or underplayed. It doesn’t need to be salacious, just delicious enough to make us leap to our feet for a shaky standing ovation after we’ve taken a moment to gather ourselves. Instead, the final moments are like a terrific third date that inexplicably ends with the same awkward car-side kiss as the first! Oh well!

 

Boston Marriage has so much good and gorgeous going on (you simply must see Amanda Muggleton at the top of her game) that it’s well worth experiencing this one yourself, no matter what anyone says.

 

Images by Rob Maccoll

29
Jun
13

Venus In Fur

Venus In Fur

Queensland Theatre Co

QPAC Cremorne

27 June – 07 July 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Vanda: You dare to resist me?

 

Thomas: Yes, I dare.

 

Vanda: You little piece of nothing! You dust! You dare to resist a goddess?

 

 

“BRAVERY, WILL, AND COMMON SENSE ARE ALL AN ACTOR NEEDS.”

                                                                                                                 David Mamet

 

 

Libby Munro Vens In Fur

Libby Munro has all this and more. Much, much more. She’s the complete package, a goddess, which is so exciting; especially at this stage of QTC’s 2013 season, in this highly anticipated Australian premiere of David IvesVenus In Fur. Quite simply, actors of Munro’s calibre don’t come around often…and it was time. Just saying…no, but really! Wow! What a find! (Can we keep her?)! As Vanda, Munro completely spoils us; she’s the ultimate seductress, with strong principles and a Pilates-toned Honey Birdette clad bod to make even this gym bunny think about upping the weekly classes. If only I had the time to keep up with that kinda’ tone! If only I had the energy! That is commitment to the role.

 

Munro is the unequivocal star of this two-hander, and although Todd MacDonald does everything within his power to balance the power on stage it’s as if he can never do quite enough to get our attention for very long, David Ives has written Thomas this way and MacDonald does all he needs to as the adaptor and director of the play inspired by the erotic 19th century novella by Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch. When Vanda bursts in late for her audition, she brings with her a new perspective on the play, and the power struggle – and incredibly cleverly the play within the play – begins. The transformation takes place magically, in a single breath at the top of the stairs in a perfectly functional and evocative set designed by Simone Romaniuk (beautifully evocative lighting, including lightning, by David Walters and soundscape, complete with actors’ beats and thunderstorm by Guy Webster). When you see it you’ll see it. The transformation. And you’ll realise in that instant that this is the most perfect piece of casting we’re likely to see on a Brisbane stage this year.

 

Venus In Fur

Director, Andrea Moor, who brought William H. Macy and David Mamet’s Practical Aesthetics actor training to Australia in 1988, has taken such a bold, intelligent approach that we can’t fail to get every message here, however; ultimately the corny conclusion lets us down on one level, reducing the entire brilliantly layered gender argument to a comic book style statement (It’s Barbarella Barbie proclaiming, Spice Girls style, “Girls rule!” I was going to pop in an image here, actually, but Google gave me some of the most disturbing Barbie images ever, and Munro presents a much better picture in the end, regardless of my opinion on the statement she makes!). This image appears to please the majority but I was left wanting more, which, like all good erotica, may well have been the intention. I felt her win would have been even more momentous if these two had had their night of passion. AND THEN SHE LEAVES HIM. But no, not even a pash at the post! You can only imagine my disappointment! The gun was on stage without being fired! I’d love to know what you think about the final moments of the play.

 

David Ives has threaded throughout the text, the most enticing political tidbits; nothing new, timeless in fact, which is why the sentiments seem to ring so true. It has always been thus! But what if Vanda were to return the following day to continue working on the production? I can’t help but wonder. What fantastic theatre it is, making us laugh and gasp and talk for days afterwards about so many different aspects of the production (including, to my surprise, the notion of offering a program to every patron, included in their ticket price, which astonished my sister from Melbourne, where coffee is cheap and programs are not!).

 

What a beautifully captured production, to make me want to read the original novella, the play, AND the director’s notes in the margins of her copy of the script. Each time I see something of Andrea Moor’s head and heart on stage I do wonder why we’re not seeing more from her. More Moor, please. It’s rich, intelligent, actors’ acting that appeals just as much to the masses, who are getting so used to seeing good live theatre in Brisbane we can’t expect anyone to accept anything less.

 

Venus in Fur is a coup for Brisbane and for our state theatre company. Let’s hope our friends in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide (at the very least) demand to see it too!

 

26
Mar
12

travelling north in noosa

Noosa Arts Theatre’s production of David Williamson’s Travelling North, directed by Steven Tandy, opens…

TOO SOON! YIKES!

Actually, it’s looking okay (tech weekend coming up!) and, considering the Gala Opening Night, which will be attended by David and Kristen Williamson,  is completely sold out and ticket sales for the season are way ahead of where they were for Influence last year (a sell-out season), you’d better get in quickly and book or you’ll miss out on the show and seeing it in the newly renovated theatre. I’m lucky there was a seat for Sam – the last one for Opening Night – I was almost divorced. Why he can’t be responsible for booking his own ticket when I’m busy concentrating on lines and shoes and props, I don’t know.

 

 

Travelling North will be the first production in the newly refurbished Noosa Arts Theatre. It’s appropriate that this play should be chosen because it’s one of the best loved plays by the patron of Noosa Arts Theatre, David Williamson.

Many will have seen the delightful film version of this play starring Leo McKern (Rumpole of the Bailey), Julie Blake (Bed of Roses), Henri Szeps (Mother & Son) and Graham Kennedy. Andrea Moor, Sydney bred and now based in Brisbane, appears as Frank’s daughter, Joan.

One of the central themes of this play will resonate with many who have “travelled north” to seek a better live in beautiful warm surroundings but who still have family obligations, which often take us away from their cherished retirement retreat.  Also, ill health can shatter our dreams of an easy life.  How do we struggle to balance family obligations with personal desires and should we keep promises when circumstances change?

The main characters, Frank & Frances, have a twilight love affair and travel north to find a new life together, away from burdensome family obligations.  Their escape is short lived when family issues and ill health intrude on their idyll.

To summarise – this is a beautifully written play that has at its centre, two wonderfully drawn characters dealing with the complexities of their lives and their relationships. Frank and Frances demand the right to live a life not defined by their children. This is David Williamson in top form with sharp, spiky and witty dialogue in abundance and themes that are at the heart of all our lives, particularly as we get older.

This play will be directed by Steven Tandy, who is best known for playing Tom Sullivan in the hit TV series The Sullivans.  He is an experienced director, having directed many plays in Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

Performances:

  • Gala Fund-Raising First Night – APRIL 4 – all tickets $50 (includes drink on arrival and light supper at interval with David and Kristin Williamson)
  • Evenings APRIL 5, 6 (Good Friday – no bar), 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21 at 7.30pm
  • Matinees APRIL 8 (Easter Sunday) and 15 at 2pm

Ticket Prices:

  • Gala First Night (April 4) – all tickets $50 SOLD OUT
  • Adults $26
  • Concessions $22
  • Members and Groups* $20
  • Children (U13) $15

Bookings:

  • Phone sales- 5449 9343, Monday to Saturday, 9am to noon from March 10
  • Online – click here

*Groups are defined as 10 or more people, please phone (07) 5449 9343 to organise.

To book the wheelchair access seat, please phone (07) 5449 9343

 

 

 

 

30
Jan
11

Are We Done With January Already?!

Wow, do I have some catching up to do! Here is the year so far:

  • Woodford Folk Festival was the wettest ever and this made it…different fun.
  • The devastating impact on friends and fellow artists of the most recent rains prompted us to help clean up at Drift and in Dayboro, as well as to collect from Sunshine Coast peeps, donations of basic items and treats to send to those who had lost everything in the floods. We ended up packing and delivering over 500 Happy Packs, which went to communities in places such as Murphy’s Creek, Bundaberg, the Bremer River, Withcott and Grantham.
  • I started reviewing Brisbane’s shows for briztix.com (and have received no hate mail yet) #WIN
  • I accepted the role of Carmela, in Influence, David Williamson’s highest grossing play, which will run for 3 weeks in April at Noosa Arts Theatre
  • I planned two entirely different courses for actors on the Sunshine Coast and scrapped them both because I felt I was missing something.
  • In the meantime, I will run Wednesday evenings from 7pm-8pm at Dance Edge Studios, for adult actors and non-actors who need SOMETHING. Or, perhaps that should be SOMETHING ELSE. Let’s call it The Soup Kitchen and I’ll provide metaphorical soup for the actors’ souls and basic skills for your survival. When I move – and I’ll let you know when that is – I’ll provide actual soup. Stone Soup. On Sundays. At home. In the kitchen. Y’all bring something to go into the soup, now.
  • I’m teaching acting and vocal classes at Dance Edge Studios and coaching aspiring young actors and singers in the lead up to the eisteddfod season and in preparation for exams, auditions, school productions, community theatre and the like. If you feel anything like I feel about the eisteddfods especially, you will understand the need for a bit of efficient, gentle coaching from Day 1.
  • My daughter started at Montessori last week. She is most impressed that she gets to cut her own fruit for morning tea and that she may have morning tea whenever she is hungry. This has let her get away in the mornings without having Proper Breakfast. This is about to change. She also likes having tiny hot pink foot stickers, with her name printed on them, inside her shoes.
  • The same daughter (there’s only one, for pretty obvious scheduling reasons) starts hip hop, acro, jazz and ballet this week (swimming lessons have already been re-scheduled). It will be hard for me to be just the mama waiting for her to do classes sooo…I guess I just gained 2 extra hours a week for your private lessons, kids!
  • In the interests of my own life-long learning, I’m up for some Practical Aesthetics, Impulse Training and a whole lot more Chubbuck this year.
  • And last but not least – for now – I’m gathering some brave people and some horrific stories this year, for a verbatim theatre project that we’ll keep calling Suicide Stories, even though I’ve already received warnings to lay off this topic. Is suicide the last taboo then? Good. We’re going there. If you’re interested in coming on this journey – and it’s going to be a tough one – let me know. We’ve got the ball rolling and the tears flowing freely. It’s all good…in a sort of terrifying, confronting, heart-wrenching way.

It’s gonna be a big year. But then every year is a big year! Bring it!