September 08, 2006

Lethal Secrets



by Neil Labute

Directors’ Choice Season

Holden Street Theatres

Until 16 September.

Murray Bramwell

American playwright Neil Labute has called them latterday plays, but the characters in Bash, his triple bill of one-act pieces, are anything but latter day saints. Raised in Utah as a Mormon himself, Labute draws on these experiences to represent the everyday quality of terrible actions. These people are presented, not as members of a cult, but ordinary, well-respected God-fearing citizens – even when their crimes resemble the savagery of an ancient society.

In fact, in naming separate sections Iphigenia in Orem and Medea Redux, Labute is directly connecting these blandly recited confessions to the cruelties of Euripidean tragedy and invokes the same recognition of a society weakened by transgression, vengeance  and hubris.

Director Phillip Parslow uses three different spaces at the Holden Street complex. The first, Iphigenia, in the bar-room area, has Renato Musolino as a harassed middle management type hooking on to a stranger to tell, or rather confess to her, his story. It is a tragic account of an infant’s suffocation told with quiet self-justification and a focus on the family’s solidity in the face of tragedy. Musolino paces the emotional twists in the monologue with commendable restraint as the final revelation – that, like Agamemnon with Iphigenia , he is acting for the good of the family and its privilege – takes its chilling effect.

Martha Lott is also excellent as a young woman describing her seduction by her teacher at the age of thirteen, the subsequent pregnancy and, many years later, her electrifying revenge on the father when their boy, Billy, is in his teens. The use of a video screen to capture the confession deftly amplifies Martha Lott’s disciplined and sustained characterisation which does credit to Labute’s superb text.

The third section – A Gaggle of Saints – features both actors as Sue and John, a clean-cut young Mormon couple in New York for a social bash with old friends. When John takes a stroll in Central Park he watches a gay couple together. “I know the scripture,” he says with lethal certainty, “this is wrong.” Needless to say, not as wrong as the coolly executed cruelty that he and his friends unleash in a men’s room in the park. The return to the safe carapace of pious respectability is as telling an account of the deep psychic split in the 21st century bourgeoisie as anyone has written since Albee or Mamet. This production is first-rate – Parslow’s direction, Mario Spate’s sound design, Michael Ceniuch‘s lighting and the memorable clarity and intelligence of the performances. The Holden Street Director’s Choice program has had another notable victory.

The Adelaide Review, No.300. September 8, 2006 p. 13

Published as “Musolino, Lott with the lot”

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