July 20, 2007

Three-Way Stretch


Triple Threat : A Triple Bill

Talk to Me like the Rain and Let Me Listen
By Tennessee Williams

Hot Fudge
By Caryl Churchill

Central Park West
By Woody Allen

State Theatre Company
Of South Australia
Dunstan Playhouse
Adelaide Festival Centre
July 10. Until July 28, 2007.

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

One of the more constant pressures on artistic directors of the State Theatre Company is to ensure there is plenty of work for local artists – whether actors, writers, designers, musicians or directors. As the South Australian flagship, State Theatre is also expected to be the affirmative action employer. But this is never a simple matter – as, over its thirty five years, any one of the company’s twelve ADs (plus its one Executive Producer) will tell you. The available talents in Adelaide may not fit the works on offer, directors want to be free to choose actors on other than postcode criteria, and audiences want to see variety and freshness in casting, performance and repertoire style. Besides, the economics of scheduling are getting ever tighter – and joint company ventures, interstate imports, solo shows and revivals all have become strategies to make the dollar stretch further.

It is a welcome move, then, that Adam Cook has programmed this triple bill providing mainstage opportunities for directors, and recruiting the lively services of an ensemble of six actors. The repertoire choices themselves, however, are somewhat odd. Perhaps a collection of one-act plays always has an arbitrary quality to it, as if they have landed by parachute. There appears little to link these selections – previous State Theatre Shorts seasons have opted for new Australian works, for instance. Here, the three course menu consists of a UK serve of Hot Fudge and two sides of American.

First up is Talk to Me like the Rain and Let Me Listen, a lyrical early work from Tennessee Williams written in 1945, a year or so after The Glass Menagerie. This is the most stylistically ambitious of the three texts and despite her creditable subtlety and restraint, director Netta Yashchin faces a difficult task threading the connections in this elusive fragment. A man and woman are reunited in a New York slum – he is hungover and sexually desperate, she is emotionally disappointed and yearning for a life “free of disturbances”. Each character breaks into arias of longing, poetic reveries far removed from their sordid reality. Tennessee Williams’ distinctive vocal rhythms are an essential key and actors Kate Box and Nathan O’Keefe can’t capture them confidently enough for the playwright’s languid, verbal trademarks to come to life. As the rain swarms down the massive window frame of Mary Moore’s imposing set, we neither feel the heat of obsession between the two troubled souls, nor the agony of their isolation.

Written in the late Eighties, Caryl Churchill’s Hot Fudge is, like Serious Money, a broad serve against the bogus values of material enterprise. There is no distinction made here between small-time credit card scammers like Ruby (memorably played by Elena Carapetis) pathetically posing as a travel agent and the self-promoting bravado of Colin (Brendan Rock) and his business and PR chums. Director Geordie Brookman manages the rapidly unfolding scenes with flair and Moore’s accomplished décor, distinctively lit by Mark Pennington, is all vacuous perspex and black sheen. The unmasking of Ruby’s deception – matched by Colin’s equally fictional account of himself – comes as no surprise and the piece falls away on a predictable, if encouraging, note.

Woody Allen’s Central Park West, marking a return to the stage in 1995, is a fast moving farce of infidelity and confrontation. Phyllis Riggs, a New York analyst, discovers her husband, Sam has been having an affair with her friend Carol, also unbeknownst to Carol’s gormless husband, Howard. One part Manhattan Feydeau and, with the bickering repartee between the about-to-be-ex-marrieds, two parts Catskills Edward Albee, Central Park West is bouncy boulevard comedy. No-one can chisel one-liners like Woody Allen, the play is bristling with them.

Director Hannah Allert manages the pace and the spice of the text well, Mary Moore’s penthouse set is all style in pastel, creams and chrome, and the actors give it wit and energy. Carmel Johnson is excellent as Phyllis, making the most of her mordant lines, Elena Carapetis has fewer opportunities as the stock New Jersey bimbo, and Brendon Rock unravels marvellously as the ever-more demented Howard. Rob MacPherson is nicely understated as Sam (just as he showed his versatility in the Churchill piece earlier) and Kate Box is suitably disconnected as the wiggy Juliet.

With its torrent of jokes and the accelerating, if predictable, complications of its plot, Central Park West is a funny and welcome diversion for audiences on cold July nights. But the considerable efforts lavished on it seem misplaced. In fact, none of the plays has given these three talented directors the opportunity to show the invention and individuality they have already displayed in their work elsewhere. So, unfortunately, they have not lived up to their triple threat and, on this occasion, the State Theatre Company, celebrating its thirty-fifth milestone, seems to be marking time.

“STC: 35 years on still marking time” The Adelaide Review, No.321, July 20, 2007, p.20.

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