September 01, 1992

Celestial Solutions

Tobsha Learner

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

Miracle, Vitalstatistix’ latest production at the Waterside, marks a further collaboration between writer Tobsha Learner and actor Rose Clemente. After Witchplay comes Miracle, a fantasy set in Triads Supermarket where long-time check out operator, Immaculata Santini hears the voice of God through the cash register. The play is centrally a vehicle for Clemente as Immaculata, a performance which not only propels the show but gives it considerable warmth and charm.

Again this is a Vitals production shaped by Cath Cantlon’s imaginatively resourceful design. This time she has used stacks of grocery cartons to enclose the performance area as well as to create swivelling sets doubling as supermarket shelving and domestic interiors. The effect is witty and brisk and sufficiently detailed to carry the elaborate plot exposition.

Director Christine Totos ensures that the show has requisite pace and clarity to keep the comedy building but- with Learner’s text in its present form- by the second half that has become a daunting task. Miracle carries so much freight it runs the risk of cardiac arrest.

This is a pity because the first half hour is very promising indeed. Clemente’s Immaculata is a strong comic creation, a caricature infused with perceptive detail. She focuses the action with accomplished support particularly from Geoff Revell, in a battery of two-dimensional male roles from cop to kleptomaniac, and Jane Thomson as Sparks, teenage mother of one and winner of very little. When Immaculata gets the call from the cash-tray, the good works begin – seizures are cured, fertility is restored, horses come home, bandits are reformed and rock-star fantasies are realised. In fact the play operates on unabashed wish fulfilment – like a cross between Are You Being Served and Bewitched.

But as the plotlines thicken and the social issues are canvassed Miracle starts to be throttled by its own intentions. The religious satire is obvious to the point of tedium. The church, epitomised by the tipsy Father O’Brien, wouldn’t know a revelation if it was bitten on the cassock, while the owners of the supermarket start merchandising like a gift shop in Lourdes. Social workers get a swerve when Ruth, strung-out bourgeois sceptic that she is, doesn’t recognise the warm aura of the calipered saint. Pearl, an awkwardly unintegrated guiding presence , played valiantly by Betty Sumner-Lovett, represents Aboriginal spirituality but is too clumsily written to convincingly embody it. In fact for all its efforts to make fun of the orthodoxies, the play is steeped in doctrine and energetically keen on making miracles happen.

The attempts to reconcile this with local Port Adelaide references and the play’s brief as an Art and Working Life project become tenuous to say the least. Miracle is Art in Working Life in the broadest sense, it says in the programme. Well, yes. No one wants another dreary marxist tract but you do get more than a passing sense that nothing short of miracles is going to make any difference to the living circumstances of these characters. When Immaculata discovers that her true strength is really in herself -after it has been made quite plain that she has actually had divine visitations – it seems like a hasty retreat through the gears and about as profound as Dorothy staring at her red shoes and saying there’s no place like home.

Miracle is full of confusions and thirty minutes too long. Sheared of its impossibly conflicting objectives and the plethora of subplots it is an appealing new play with originality and rich humour. Especially with Rose Clemente’s characterisation, Miracle has every chance of being a durable stage success. It has already endeared itself to full-houses in its first season but it needs more thinking through. Otherwise the ghosts in the Waterside Workers’ Hall might start rattling their chains just to remind us that that’s all we have to lose.

The Adelaide Review, September, 1992.

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