Review: Art V Garbage (Dumpster Divas / Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 26 – Mar 1, 2019
Creators and Cast: Salem Barrett-Brown, Danni Paradiso, Rory Nolan
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The Dumpster Divas have a very passionate social conscience. Like many of their generation, these young Australians have a certitude about what is right, the people we need to become, and how things should be run. They are idealistic, and in their 45-minute production, convincing with their perspective of the world that we share. Comprised of short sketches, Art V Garbage is variously themed, but each segment is united by a distinct queer sensibility, all flamboyantly conceptualised and slightly anarchic in approach.

The exuberant humour of Art V Garbage is thoroughly enjoyable, with the trio proving themselves to be as adept in the art of comedic performance, as they are in writing and directing their own material. Creative and clever, the work encompasses virtually all that is resonating within our immediate zeitgeist, effectively shaping itself into a condensed representation of our life and times, as things stand at the moment. Its absurdist style allows us to take its meanings beyond the obvious. We are able to look at art, politics, society and economics from new angles, maybe not to reach completely unexpected conclusions, but its refreshing take on important issues are definitely provocative.

From sanctimonious single mothers to the Prime Minister, the iconoclastic trio cuts them down to size, in a spirited exercise that re-focuses our mores through an improved, more equitable lens. The gay rights movement feels to have past its prime in Australia, but the queer principles and values we have engendered through the last forty or so years, continue to serve in the unending expansion of democracy in our ways of life. Queer refuses hierarchies, and is always quick to disseminate power. It protects the weak, and insists on challenging every convention. Salem Barrett-Brown, Danni Paradiso and Rory Nolan demonstrate in their sketches, the virtues of the new Australian; more egalitarian than before, more intelligent, more caring. They work for the good of everyone, even when we think of them as outsiders.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

Review: Dead Cat Bounce (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 22 – Apr 6, 2019
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Mitchell Butel
Cast: Kate Cheel, Lucia Mastrantone, Johnny Nasser, Josh Quong Tart
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
In Mary Rachel Brown’s Dead Cat Bounce, Gabriel is a moderately successful novelist, a middle aged alcoholic, and also it seems, quite the ladykiller. Two women are madly in love with him, in this story of addiction and redemption, but we spend most of the duration trying instead to figure out his appeal, wondering what it is that his current and ex beaus are actually drawn to. This of course, is not a wholly uncommon experience, for those of us who have watched our friends (and ourselves) fall for the wrong people, bewildered by the things a human heart is capable of making us do. In this play however, those dynamics are unconvincing, and worse, neither its narrative nor characters are capable of keeping us meaningfully engaged.

Little of the comedy manages to be truly amusing, and where we hope for poignancy, or at least some valuable depth to its observations of quite serious themes, we find only cliché and banality. People are often stupid, that is unassailable, but our storytelling must bring insightful illumination to our nature, even if it is idiocy that is placed under scrutiny. The production is fortunately, a fairly polished one, with Alexander Berlage’s lights and Nate Edmondson’s music providing a great deal of elevation, even if only on a cosmetic level.

Although lacking in substance, the show is undoubtedly energetic, with director Mitchell Butel maintaining a bold pitch in performances, insisting that we pay attention. Josh Quong Tart is accurate in his portrayal of the unremarkable Gabriel, intentionally unlikable but clearly committed to the part. His young lover Matilda is played by Kate Cheel, who demonstrates great inventiveness in her efforts to find creative dimensions within this unenviable task. Lucia Mastrantone takes every opportunity to bring the drama, for which we are grateful, even if her character Angela’s choices prove to be relentlessly frustrating. Equally intense is Johnny Nasser, whose personal charisma almost compensates for the flimsiness of Tony, a ridiculously whiny and small man, rendered with too much unnecessary kindness.

The women in Dead Cat Bounce are suckers for punishment, but it is not hard to figure out why they stand firm on playing the fool. Girls are taught that they are worthless without children and a husband. Society seems obsessed with instilling a sense of inadequacy in us, always finding ways to say that we are not good enough, and we seem never to be able to entirely escape from these systems of control. Matilda is smart enough to read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, but somehow finds herself happily planning to raise a family with a drunk twice her age. Angela is a powerful woman in the publishing business, but is addicted to toxic men and all their unreasonable demands. From our vantage point, we can only conclude that they should simply have walked away, and learned to be unafraid of independence. If one should think that this is easier said than done, then that is indication of where much of the problem lies.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Lucia Mastrantone and Josh Quong Tart

Lucia Mastrantone

Josh Quong Tart: For ‘great’ television, who would you choose as a partner if you were to enter The Amazing Race and why?
Lucia Mastrantone: Valentino Rossi because I’m not a lover of rugged travel nor roughing it whilst I travel. I’d love to fang it around the world with an Italian who’d be very good at getting you to each destination quickly and in time for an aperitif before dinner and face whatever adventure one needs to face after having a beautiful meal.

What was your greatest culinary disaster? Please explain.
Serving a gluten-free and vegetarian meal to a potential Italian mother-in-law. I don’t think that needs an explanation.

If you had all the money in the world what would you bid on at the auction house?
Australian art and furniture.

Re the art of comedy who do see as your funniest female actor?
Madeline Carn.

If you could choose anywhere in the world to tell someone you love something REALLY special where would that be and why?
The island of Ischia off the port of Naples. An unknown proper working Mediterranean village with incredible seafood, views, volcanic springs and nightlife that only Italians and Germans visit or know of, as a holiday resort.

Josh Quong Tart

Lucia Mastrantone: What is your favourite non-touristic destination in NSW?
Josh Quong Tart: Dolphin Point (near Ulladulla). Swimming in crystal clear water fed by the ocean into Burrill Lake. Best time to do it – on the incoming tide just before it peeks. Dive in let the current take you a couple of hundred meters where you can jump out and do it all over again. Amazing.

In what country overseas did you have your most romantic love affair and why was that so?
Innsbruck Austria. Travelling alone a few years back (got off the train by accident) to discover this beautiful place. I’m a big sucker for mountains and centuries-old town squares covered in snow and dripping elegant Christmas decos.

What would be your monster’s ball meal if you were ever on death row?
Spaghetti bol.

Who is your artistic idol?
Barry Humphries is right up there.

If you were a genie, what famous person would you like to find your genie bottle and bring you to life and why?
Jenny Morris singer in the 80’s. Cause she’s kinda fun and thinks big. I’d trust her judgement with her wishes.

Lucia Mastrantone and Josh Quong Tart can be seen in Griffin Theatre’s Dead Cat Bounce by Mary Rachel Brown.
Dates: 22 Feb – 6 Apr, 2019
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre

Review: Cake Daddy (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 16 – 22, 2019
Playwrights: Ross Anderson-Doherty, Lachlan Philpott
Director: Alyson Campbell
Cast: Ross Anderson-Doherty

Theatre review
When we first meet Ross Anderson-Doherty in his one man show, he plays a success story at Cakewatchers, an internationally renowned weight-loss programme. The performer’s large body is the location on which the farce takes place, as he takes us through a series of absurd guidelines, that claim to help individuals achieve some semblance of satisfaction for one’s own physicality, by becoming thin. Cake Daddy by Anderson-Doherty and Lachlan Philpott is an incisive summation of what is termed “diet culture”, the horrendous relationship many of us have with food and body image; that bottomless pit of cruelty, dealt by the self and by society, determined to infect each of us with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy.

As the jokes and songs pass us by, we see Anderson-Doherty shedding the spokesperson’s plastic facade, to reveal real experiences of a fat person who struggles to find self-acceptance. The disclosures are by no means original or new, but the honesty of the performer’s display of emotion, is channelled by director Alyson Campbell to communicate a remarkable poignancy that turns the show subtly, into a discussion about compassion, both for the self and for others. As Anderson-Doherty oscillates between hating his reflection, and loving the freedom of an emancipated mind, we witness the most authentic portrayal of humanity. Even when we have the answers to life’s big mysteries, there will always be hard work waiting to be done, in order to get through some of the days.

Musical numbers in the piece can sometimes feel extraneous, as we tend to lose a powerful sense of immediacy when Anderson-Doherty drifts into song, but to encounter his exceptional singing voice is an unequivocal pleasure. As comedian, his ability to read the audience is uncanny, and we find ourselves always kept on our toes by his vigilant stage awareness, although some of his pacing can be needlessly languid, in a production that is most effective when manic in tone. Cake Daddy skates close to self-deprecation, but its subject is never humiliated. In fact, we watch him in all his glory, and wonder if he actually shares in our vision of his greatness. However each person comes to dislike parts of themselves, it is crucial that one is committed to finding peace within, even if it proves an endless task.

www.wreckedallprods.com

Review: The Things I Could Never Tell Steven (Whimsical Productions)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 20 – Mar 2, 2019
Music & Lyrics: Jye Bryant
Directors: Ghassan Kassisieh, Katherine Nheu
Cast: Julia Hyde, Joey Sheehan, Suzanne Chin, Tim Martin
Images by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
Steven is constantly evasive, nowhere to be seen, because he had done the wrong thing. After their recent nuptials, Steven’s wife finds that he often disappears, and we discover that he chooses to spend time instead with an ex, a male lover happy to rekindle the relationship, unaware of Steven’s change in marital status. Steven however would only stay for the sex, and vanish in between coitus, unable to extend intimacy beyond the flesh. Jye Bryant’s The Things I Could Never Tell Steven tells an intriguing story about sexual orientation for our times, to provoke questions about identity, and to discuss the quickly evolving meanings of marriage under our newly egalitarian legislation.

Bryant’s musical features songs that are beautifully melodic, with witty lyrics that offer plentiful amusement. Musical direction by Ghassan Kassisieh, who provides accompaniment on keyboard, is precise and pleasant. The production is minimally designed, but directors Kassisieh and Katherine Nheu offer elegant staging solutions that keep meaningful emphasis on the songs. Performer Julia Hyde is very impressive as Steven’s unnamed wife, with a wonderful voice that delivers considerable dynamism to the show. Her mother-in-law is played by Suzanne Chin who brings an excellent measure of comedic energy to proceedings. Joey Sheehan is less effective with the humour, but as Steven’s ex his falsetto is a real auditory joy, and Tim Martin who, although not sufficiently dramatic in approach, is nonetheless convincing in his portrayal of the reliably stoic father.

Steven is not present to plead his case, but he is clearly not the marrying type. In times past, we would have conveniently attributed his misbehaviour to him being a closet case, but now we are free to examine his tale as one about the relevance and purpose of marriage. It is possible that Steven’s regret is simply about attachment, of having to sacrifice his selfhood for no good reason, regardless of the genders at play in the musical. He should have known to interrogate rules around monogamy and fidelity before taking that solemn vow, and more importantly, he should have challenged notions of conformity and conventions, that have brought him to this point of dilemma.

www.whimsicalproductions.com.au

Review: Wyngarde! A Celebration (G.bod Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 19 – Mar 2, 2019
Devised by: Garth Holcombe, Peter Mountford
Director: Peter Mountford
Cast: Garth Holcombe
Images by Richard Hedger

Theatre review
Peter Wyngarde gained mainstream popularity in 1969 as Jason King, a novelist turned sleuth, in the UK television series Department S. A flamboyant actor, known for his horseshoe moustache and bronzed skin, he is one of innumerable twentieth century celebrities who had never come out of the closet, yet remains an integral part of British gay culture. His 1975 arrest for gross indecency in a public toilet forms part of his mystique, but as was typical of the times, his queerness was kept obscured, refused acknowledgement by wider society. The public would only allow a sex symbol who could not threaten their heteronormativity, and Wyngarde acquiesced.

Garth Holcombe and Peter Mountford’s Wyngarde! A Celebration is a re-framing of the personality, an insistence that we look at old narratives with new eyes, to form a history that makes sense in terms of how we experience the world today. As though a private audience with Wyngarde himself, in which his inhibitions are shed, and we witness him able to be his true self at last. Holcombe has the right charisma for the role, but is occasionally hesitant. The cocky debonair masculinity of a bygone era is portrayed alongside a camp sensibility, to make a statement about the evolution of gay identities, and to form a reminder of a community’s legacy of struggle.

For all the bravado that Wyngarde enjoys putting on display, there is a loneliness that pervades. There is an unmistakable pride in his long career in stage and film, but we sense something unfulfilled. Wyngarde! A Celebration can feel too gentle in its approach. We want a bawdy tell-all, but it gives us instead, something with more integrity than we are perhaps accustom to, in this age of ubiquitous intrusion and humiliation. It is our nature to seek authenticity, but it appears that revealing everything often serves to distract from the truth. Many things are left unsaid in Wyngarde’s story, and that is perhaps his very essence, and the most accurate representation of the man we have come looking for.

www.gbodtheatre.com

Review: The Bed Party (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 12 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Sophia Davidson Gluyas
Director: Sophia Davidson Gluyas
Cast: Mathilde Anglade, Julia Billington, Brigitta Brown, Margarita Gershkovich, Suz Mawer, Alex Moulis

Theatre review
Six queer women share their “ideas, jokes and intimacies” in a display of community and solidarity in Sophia Davidson Gluyas’ The Bed Party. They congregate in a bedroom, discussing life and love, bringing each of her own perspectives and challenges, to find consensus or simply to receive validations, within the circle of their trusting group. The conventional plot plays second fiddle in this feminist approach to storytelling. The sparkling dialogue has its own distinctive rhythms. Lines are not in service of a bigger project of narrative construction, but are themselves the emphasis of the play. We listen to what the women are saying, how they say it, and distil all the meanings in between. It peaks in waves, in acknowledgement of our capacity for more than a singular momentary apex.

The show begins abruptly, unable to find a mode of naturalism that would guide us comfortably into its microcosm, but its chemistry gradually develops and we are soon completely, and wonderfully, immersed. It is a warm cast, not entirely believable as close friends, but certainly a welcoming bunch of personalities that wins us over easily. Mathilde Anglade’s cheeky charm in the role of George is a delight, as she works every comedic opportunity in the script to her advantage, and for our thorough amusement. Julia Billington delivers dramatic intensity along with ideological power, as Bri the sensible half of a partnership determined not to procreate.

As independent women, we learn to make our own rules, and we take the liberty to choose our own families. We are fearless, but we are thoughtful, always careful to design a way of living that is ethically sound, as well as being genuinely fulfilling. We question everything in front of us, and view all that had come before us with great suspicion. That which is prescribed, is rejected until proven worthy, and saying no to anyone is a breeze. Above all however, a powerful woman honours the sisterhood, and leaves no other behind.

www.old505theatre.com