April 24, 2013

A Night in Bohemia

Homage to Uncertainty
Emma Beech

The Giovanni Experiment
Hew Parham

La Boheme
April 20

The Adelaide Festival and Fringe programs have long been an embarrassment of riches. There are only so many places you can be at 8 pm on a Tuesday, or 7 pm on a Thursday and, with so many events scheduled, inevitably there are clashes and missed opportunities – especially when the enthusiastic buzz begins about particular shows and, alas, bookings and commitments have already been locked in.

So the chance to see return performances, especially of the calibre of Saturday night’s double feature at the excellent La Boheme, is not to be missed – again. Both Hew Parham and Emma Beach are well known Adelaide performers – Parham from the Weimar Room days through to his recent incarnations as Sherminaar the pirate, Schmoo the clown and his current hypermanic creation Giovanni. Emma Beech, recently seen (or almost-seen) as Fatima, the wearily patient translator for Stephen Sheehan’s indescribable Stevl Shefn, developed her current show especially for the Fringe season.

Homage to Uncertainty is a quietly droll examination of the way things happen – or more accurately, don’t happen. Emma Beech describes how she has been taking been stock of her life – starting by having a look at what she actually does all day. Reminded by a friend that lawyers have to account for every seven minutes of the working day, Beech applies the same method and concludes she is putting a lot in and not getting much back.

Then, she turns her research to the larger world – watching the unsuspecting people of Adelaide for a four week intensive : in cafes, on street corners, hospital waiting rooms, even late at night in the Pancake Kitchen. It seems we don’t do much a lot of the time either. According to the Beech Report we spend endless time on our phones, followed by eating, drinking and a great deal of waiting. We touch our noses, pull our earlobes and absently-mindedly faff about.
This Homage is a meandering event, and in Beech’s bemused narrative the digressions are always engaging. But soon the apparently random observations s gather intensity. We hear about her brother, Matt and his friend Bonging Banjo; the former working long hours as a young corporate executive in Sydney while his old friend, Bonging, is bobbing along in IT, working on an online merchandising idea on the side. Beech delivers the story like a well-set trap – and snap comes the punchline. Matt learns that Banjo’s internet startup has sold for $140 million and he has walked away with 40 of them.

In the next turn of her wheel of fortune Beech talks about her father- and the paralysing effects of his recent nervous breakdown. Skilfully, Beech has steered us from mildly unsettling whimsy to a challenging set of questions about the aspirations and values of our society generally and of her peers and family in particular. It is perceptive, assured and original writing and Emma Beech presents it with comic lightness and unexpected impact.

“I think that’s it” she says, unceremoniously closing the proceedings- leaving us with plenty of to mull over – and a sure sense that Emma Beech is a singular talent. It is no surprise that Homage to Uncertainty won the Fringe’s Tour Ready award, supported by the Melbourne Fringe. It has a certain future.

Hew Parham’s Giovanni is the Italian waiter’s Italian waiter- a caricature, a stereotype, a familiar, and, like all good comic creations – a mirror of our own delusions, irritations, insecurities and fleeting joys. In a series of mimes and monologues, tightly directly by Craig Behenna, Parham displays his range both as a physical and verbal comedian.

Choreographed to a thrillingly loud symphonic accompaniment – Mendelsohn’s theme for A Midsummer Night’s Dream is it ? – Giovanni opens with an extended flourish – obsessively preparing, first his tables setting and then his own culinary grooming. Splendidly in sync with each chord, bow stroke, fanfare and crashing cymbal of the music, Giovanni breaks eggs, whisks, grates cheese and, as the skit extends effortlessly into absurdity, he scrape shaves with table cream, smears his hair with olive oil and perfumes his armpits with parmesan.

When he addresses the audience, and of course, berates two late-comers, Parhams’s cod Italian speech comes trippingly off the tongue – as he implores for interconnecione and rapporio and most all – amore. Giovanni the romantic exhorts us to kiss our neighbour “on the face”. He is unperturbed by our reticence – “I can wait – my mama taught me about slow food, some of her dishes have been cooking since 1979. Now I want slow amore.” Giovanni introduces himself, stretching his neck, jerking his head about in quick movements like a Dario Fo rooster. He is dressed in classic attire : bow tie, waistcoat, white apron, hair slicked and pencil moustache completing the identikit. He is well trained in the waiter’s art – first year: moustache grooming, second year: anal retentive table setting, third year: interactione with the ladies incorporating aphrodisione but blended always with nostalgio.

A highpoint is his rococo recitation of the daily specials, delivered with the speed and glottal virtuosity of a Missouri auctioneer . And, of course, after the lengthy explanation – the customer orders steak. Parham has added new material- with his apron turned into a head scarf he conjures Giovanni’s mama – a woman who sounds like an Italian version of a Monty Python pepperpot (a Terry Jones one) but we are told has a heart as tender as osso bucco.

It is not all in Italo-babble though. In a documentary narrative Giovanni reminisces in clipped BBC English – I always wanted to be an Italian waiter he confides- my first word was macchiato. He remembers his early days as a San Pellegrino boy playing football for the North Plympton Puttanescas and his first job in Munno Para at a restaurant called La Gonorrhoea.

Giovanni’s main satiric targets are elsewhere, however – directed at the mass marketing of denatured fast food. We glimpse this as he melodramatically discards his traditional attire and replaces it with a monogrammed polo shirt. O Sole Mio Ltd – specialising in 70 pastas and sauces, the Nessum Doorstep, and other bogus McMonstrosioses. Giovanni’s Experiment now has me channelling Italiosities, but not nearly as well. Don’t miss Giovanni when he is next serving tables, Hew Parham’s clever clown has a heart as soft and sweet as Tiramisu.

Murray Bramwell

The Barefoot Review, April 24, 2013.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment