Review: Estelle Astaire’s Woes & Wares (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Jun 13 – 16, 2018
Playwright: Bianca Seminara
Director: Bianca Seminara
Cast: Bianca Seminara

Theatre review
It is a Tupperware party, and our host is doing her best to keep us entertained. Estelle Astaire’s Woes & Wares is a one-woman show, in which a recent immigrant from New York relays the journey that had got her here. The challenges of a child living with a difficult mother, and failed love affairs of an ingenue, form an amusing biography of someone trying to come into her own. Estelle is great company, and her mother is a splendidly colourful creature, both witty and spirited, in this uncomplicated but cleverly written play, by Bianca Seminara.

For the production, Seminara serves also as actor and director, for which her abilities are evidently less accomplished. There is a charm and attractive quirkiness to the presence she brings on stage, but the lack of dynamism and drama in the performance, makes for a monotonous experience, albeit a tenaciously endearing one. Nevertheless, the hour-long show is fairly rewarding, made memorably novel by the circulation of a large number of fascinating plastic containers among the audience.

Estelle has a horrible husband, whom she tolerates in a way similar to how she had dealt with her mother. The big difference of course, is that Estelle is no longer a child, and can leave her appalling circumstances at will. Independence is essential, but to acquire the skills that will help one attain it, is always a tricky ordeal. When mothers are unable to fulfil their duty as role models, daughters often have to learn things the hard way. Estelle has yet to find her path, but we are glad to see that she is on the right track.

www.bloodmoontheatre.com

Review: Arthur & Marilyn (Dinosaurus Productions)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), May 29 – Jun 2, 2018
Playwright: Jasper Lee-Lindsay
Director: Danen Young
Cast: Meg Hyeronimus, Alec Ebert

Theatre review
Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, both legends in their own right, are significant not only for the work they had left behind, but as is typical of bona fide celebrities, their personal stories, whether real or fabricated, determine how we remember them generations on. The couple fell in and out of love, against the romantic backdrop of Hollywood in the 1950s. In Jasper Lee-Lindsay’s Arthur & Marilyn, each party is risen from the dead, and the consummate storytellers are called upon to give us their version of that famous love affair.

Dialogue is scintillating in the two-hander, with an admirable authenticity to its depiction of a lulling time and space that has us fascinated and seduced. Actors Meg Hyeronimus and Alec Ebert are an enchanting pair, accurate in voice and physicality for a convincing portrayal of mid-century America. Hyeronimus is wonderful as Marilyn, conveying not only the iconic vulnerable glamour that most of us are familiar with, but also adding a dimension of wilfulness and confidence that makes this iteration seem, perhaps strangely, even more genuine than the original.

The plot of Arthur & Marilyn is imperfect, unable to cultivate an emotional journey with enough potency that can live up to the sentimental value we hold for its subject matter, but levels of intensity for the production, is cleverly controlled by director Danen Young, and our attention is sustained to the end.

Relationships can be kept beautiful, if we are able to concede when their time is up. Longevity of marriages are venerated in polite society, but like so much of life, we learn ultimately that it is the quality, and not quantity, of things that should be valued. Monroe and Miller never had a “happily ever after”, but the many sweet moments that they did have together, represent their very best days on earth.

www.bloodmoontheatre.com | www.facebook.com/DinosaurusProd

5 Questions with Meg Hyeronimus and Danen Young

Meg Hyeronimus

Danen Young: How does it feel to play such an iconic figure as Marilyn?
Meg Hyeronimus: Initially, terrifying. I didn’t really know much about her other than the typical “blonde bombshell” character and that she’s the most famous blonde of all time or at least the 20th Century. So yeah, completely overwhelmed. I dove into my research, gathered everything I could find and found her to be so incredibly extraordinary and complex. As Arthur Miller said in an interview “whatever anybody was she had a little of it”. I also quickly accepted that I’d never be Marilyn. That took some stress away. I think the script definitely helps with that – with the breaking down of her public persona, and portrays a more real and human version of her. My relationship to her has become incredibly personal, I find myself fighting for her in whatever way possible – in everyday life or during rehearsal (I suppose that’s a real driving force for me in the show) and I love her a lot. I feel her pain and her hope. It’s also opened a lot up for me as an actor, I feel more confident in myself and owning my power. I’m very grateful for the whole process. 

How is it different this time round? 
I think there is an obvious shift in each of us, it feels like we’ve matured as actors/theatre-makers. Don’t get me wrong, we very much are still those excited passionate kids – but the approach to our work is more direct and fast paced. The vision for what we want is clearer; for Alec (playing Arthur) and I as actors making choices for our characters and for Danen and his directorial vision. There is a lot more freedom for me as Marilyn now. I’m not trying as hard to be a certain way. I think I have a better understanding of her, or rather MY Marilyn and all that character stuff (which the first time round plagued me for a while). It now comes second nature, leaving me with so much more room to PLAY! It’s so FUN, even when it tears my heart apart. 

What is your favourite thing about the rehearsal room? 
Well, that I get to work with two of my best friends. Also the silly characters that are always floating around. Alec has one whose name is Timothy Panknell. He’s from somewhere in Brooklyn. And never ever fails to make me laugh. Danen and Alec both take on who they think Arthur Miller’s mother would sound and be like. It’s probably the funniest thing I’ve witnessed first hand. 
We have so many stupid jokes and outbursts of nonsense, and it’s generally Alec saying something so absurd and ridiculous that Danen and I lose it for a good 5 mins. 
It’s a good base for us to be open and just play around with the script, despite the work being so sincere and somewhat philosophical.

If you could have dinner with any famous person from the past, who would it be? 
Is it annoying to say Marilyn, because honestly that would be my first choice. I’m desperate to speak to her. Other than that, Hatshepsut. She’s one boss ass bish! 

Marilyn’s from LA and Arthur’s from New York, so where would you rather live, LA or New York?
Young Meg would say New York in a heartbeat. And I would say present Meg would say it too, just a little more hesitant. I need space and love nature, so I’ll say LA. That is my final answer. Which is lucky considering I’m moving there in 3 weeks, HA!

Danen Young

Meg Hyeronimus: LA or NY?
Danen Young: Oooooh that’s tough. I’d have to say NYC in terms of a city to live in. There is sooooooooo much happening in such a small amount of area, and it literally never sleeps. Which is absolutely perfect for a night owl like myself!!

Dinner guest?
I would have to say Nikola Tesla. Such an incredible mind that was not as successful and far reaching as he should have been. The memory of his great work was stomped on by Thomas Edison and I would just want to say sorry for that!!

How different has it been directing this time around?
There have actually been a lot of things that are similar about directing this time around. The difference mainly being the length, and the challenges we’ve faced in terms of developing a rhythm for the show. The short and sweet version of the play was probably a bit nailed into us, so breaking free of this emotional and muscle memory was the first big hurdle. In terms of staging, lighting, and sound the show is coming together fairly in the same, but on a larger scale; so the lighting plots are more complex, there are more sound cues, and more blocking to figure out. But being on a small budget, and having restrictions on how much set we can have, means that we’ve kept the set minimal, to focus on the characters, relationships and memories that Jasper has so beautifully written into his script. Rehearsals are still super fun and full of cheeky banter!

Why produce this play?
Firstly, because the script is amazing. For actors, the words just pull you along, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch. But I think it’s also a very interesting take on memory, and celebrity culture in this highly connected world of social media. How can we really know who these people were? Whose word can you trust as an authority on what these people were like? Does it really matter? Is it possible to know someone if you’ve never met them? I can’t really answer these questions, but I want to say that the overwhelming feeling I’ve had whilst directing this play, is that our memories are who we are, but in the end, it’s the memory of us in the minds of other people that define who we are.

Describe the show in 3 words.
Sincere. Ethereal. Heartbreaking.

Meg Hyeronimus plays Marilyn Monroe, and Danen Young directs Arthur & Marilyn, by Jasper Lee-Lindsay.
Dates: 29 May – 2 Jun, 2018
Venue: Blood Moon Theatre

Review: Hamlet At The Bottle-O (Blood Moon Theatre)


Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), May 15 – 26, 2018
Playwright: Pat H Wilson
Director: Adrian Barnes
Cast: Nick Mercer
Image by Marek Wojt

Theatre review
Like most of us who pursue careers in the arts, Nick is an actor who has to hold down a “real job” to pay the bills. Managing a bottle shop may not be his favourite occupation, but he does it well, in between sneaky practice sessions for imminent auditions. There are five short scenes in Pat H Wilson’s Hamlet At The Bottle-O Or The Wineshop Monologues, with Nick relaying amusing but inconsequential stories about colourful personalities and quaint occurrences at his workplace.

The one-man show features actor Nick Mercer, charismatic and highly energetic in a simple work that demands little more than an enthusiastic familiarity with the text. Mercer proves himself an engaging presence, but the material is limiting in terms of character development, and the proficiency that we encounter never progresses beyond its somewhat basic requirements. The cordial man behind the wineshop counter has a simple job ringing up your purchase, and the performer too, on this occasion, needs only be pleasant, and he passes with flying colours.

We are more than the jobs we do, but often it is how we are employed that determines our identity in the eyes of the world. People can be useful to society in a myriad ways, and it is what we contribute that allows others to form an understanding of who we are. It is however, equally important that the individual knows the self beyond the face that they present on the outside. Most know Nick as the affable bottle-o guy, but Nick knows that he is capable of very much more.

www.bloodmoontheatre.com

Review: Yours The Face (Blood Moon Theatre / LZA Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), May 1 – 12, 2018
Playwright: Fleur Kilpatrick
Director: Liz Arday
Cast: Daniela Haddad
Image by Liz Arday

Theatre review
Emmy is a female fashion model, and Peter is a male photographer. They meet on a job in London, both excited to be visiting from abroad, and both finding themselves attracted to one another. We watch nervously, waiting for disaster to strike, predicting the inevitable in this tale of power imbalance, but Fleur Kilpatrick’s Yours The Face refuses to fit into the mould. It is a relief to see Emmy resist being infantilised, that her sexuality and sense of self are presented as valid, even if the structures that she operates within are problematic.

The work challenges us to think about institutionalised sexism, whilst it presents individuals who seem blameless and who look to be acting with agency. It questions our participation in industries that thrive on inequity, making us think about the meaning of responsibility, in situations when acting in accordance with what is considered legal and permissible, are arguably ethically inadequate.

Daniela Haddad plays both roles, and proves herself sufficiently prepared, but the actor’s inexperience is evident in the demanding work. Positioned in front of a screen, with projections accompanying her entire performance, Haddad’s face is often obscured by the imagery, and we find ourselves routinely distracted by competing visual elements. Director Liz Arday’s concepts are strong, and they make for a show that is ultimately thought-provoking and rewarding, but the production is certainly demanding of its audience’s ability to concentrate.

When we are not actively taking down and taking over old systems, our involvement only serves to sustain them. There will be benefits that come with playing by the rules, but hidden costs have to be examined, and measured against what we deem to be genuinely decent. What Emmy and Peter do, are conventional and accepted, in fact they stand to become rich and famous if the stars align, but in Yours The Face, we observe that all is not well. Disease festers and exacerbates, when we choose only to pay attention to all that glitters.

www.lza-theatre.xyz | www.bloodmoontheatre.com

5 Questions with Liz Arday and Daniela Haddad

Liz Arday

Daniela Haddad: You’ve made the decision to cast a woman in this play instead of a man. Why did you make that decision?
Liz Arday: When I first read this piece I couldn’t really justify it focalised through a male lens. I know the original production utilised a male performer in the solo role, at the time the discussions around objectification of the female body were forefront, so that was an incredibly clever choice. How brilliant to place a man on stage and challenge an audience to objectify him in the same way they objectify women. But in 2018 and in the wake of “Me Too” and “Time’s Up”, reclamation and amplification of the female voice in the discussion around consent is paramount. Young women have begun to reclaim their bodies through platforms like YouTube and Instagram and in doing so have rejected the mainstream media’s damaging narratives, but we still have a way to go in having our voices heard… and believed. Our production therefore is about challenging an audience to believe our voice, our story, over that of a man’s. Which is why I felt it was important to cast a women in the solo role.

How has working with only women in the rehearsal room impacted the creative process for you?
This is wonderfully not the first time I’ve run a female only room. When I directed A Woman Alone in London last year I also closed the room for most of the process allowing only female creatives in. It creates a very safe space that allows for more honest and in-depth discussions around female sexuality, identity and the sharing of personal experience which culminates in a more truthful, brave and defiantly feminist performance. I think it’s a powerful process tactic and has proven to be both super successful and liberating for all involved.

There’s been a wave of female monologues on Sydney stages this year, including A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing at KXT and Lethal Indifference at STC. What do you think the appeal is?
I think “Me Too” has empowered female makers to stand up and tell their stories, and has also given audiences permission to engage with them. I think a female monologue piece is the pinnacle of that empowerment as it demands a raw, honest and virtuoso performance from it’s solo actor, and denies a masculine voice in the space (unless embodied through a female form). It’s the ultimate finger to the theatre establishment and traditions on which our industry is built.

What skills can you take from this project to apply to your Sandra Bates assistant directorship at the Ensemble?
One of the shows I’m working on is Unqualified, which is a female comedy written by and starring Genevieve Hegney and Catherine Moore. It’s Tina Fey level hilarious, and is a brilliant example of a work that scene after scene passes the Blechdel test. I think knowing the value of cultivating a safe feminist space in the rehearsal room and encouraging open discussion will serve well. Also it’s a play that travels to many different spaces and places without elaborate sets to frame it, much like our piece, so I’ll be ready to tackle those challenges!

Why do you think people should come to see this show?
Because it’s absolutely stunning piece of award winning Australian writing by one of our greatest assets, Fleur Kilpatrick. Because it’s articulating the seismic cultural shifts that are happening internationally and here at home. Because you’ll be supporting a team of talented and passionate independent theatre makers getting work up without co-production or funding support. Because it’ll be powerful punch of theatre we promise won’t disappoint!

Daniela Haddad

Liz Arday: What was it about the play that made you want to audition?
Daniela Hadda: The script and these characters drew me in and I was attracted to the idea of how models are inherently actors themselves. I was interested to see how this would play out on the theatre stage. Models also contribute hugely to the definition of ‘beauty’ given their influence in the digital sphere. So, this was a really important opportunity to explore the meaning of beauty for myself on a more personal level. The added challenge of a double role excited me as an actor, because of the opportunities it gave me to stretch my skills to the limit.

Throughout the piece you are often playing two characters (Emmy the model and Peter the photographer) who are often on stage together at the same time. What challenges have you come up against in creating these moments and how have you gone about overcoming them?
I had to find ways to create two distinct characters in voice, movement, body language – two very different people with two very different energies who are conveying a different story through their perspectives. From the beginning, I eased into Peter’s character quite nicely. There was a high level of comfort there with his overall energy, grounded nature and of course being Australian. Emmy, I found to be a bigger challenge as she’s an American model and certainly more reserved and calculated compared to the transparent Peter. She is living this idea of what she’s supposed to be according to the modelling industry. This concept paired with her intricate layers of life experience makes for an interesting story but also for the huge challenge on my end to tell this story in all its truth. There are no costumes changes to indicate the shifts between Emmy and Peter. Although there are different accents involved, the physicality speaks volumes in this piece. However the impact of that is only felt when the transitions are swift and seamless. At times, that really can be tiresome to critique, but the pay off of refined theatre is well worth working towards. Plus, the added fun of having that creative freedom to explore within the space and all of that wonderfully paired with the projections Liz has been working on. A grand gesture of art installation and theatre.

As part of our research we’ve been watching some pretty interesting YouTube videos on how to be an alpha male. Can you share any hot tips?
It’s just hilarious that there are entire YouTube channels dedicated to ‘how to be an alpha male’! They were helpful in giving me some physicality choices to experiment with for Peter. Three of my favourites are: 1) Stand straight. The best way to check your alpha posture is to stand against a wall, heels, calves, bum and shoulders should all touch. Step away from the wall but keep those points projected. 2) Use physical reinforcements, touch the person you’re speaking with at the high points of conversation. 3) Smirk, don’t smile.

Emmy is written as a model, but we’ve been re-framing her a bit as an influencer. How would you describe the difference between the two?
The concept of beauty is becoming increasingly blurred. In the 90’s for example a fashion model was typically someone exceedingly tall with a unique look, usually including sharp cheekbones, paired with a memorable walk or iconic pose or gaze. Nowadays, that particular mould of a fashion model is in decline due to the rising prominence of digital influencers. A digital beauty influencer being someone who produces online content that strays from the traditional ideas of fashion and aims to create something more accessible to their mass following. Today beauty is more than just physicality. It’s definitely got a personality edge to it.

In five words how would you describe this production?
Confronting, honest, hilarious, insightful, relevant.

Liz Arday and Daniela Haddad are presenting Yours The Face, by Fleur Kilpatrick.
Dates: 1 – 12 May, 2018
Venue: Blood Moon Theatre

Review: Sex & Death (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Apr 10 – 28, 2018

Something In The Basement
Playwright: Don Nigro
Director: Garreth Cruickshank
Cast: David Luke, Annette van Roden

It’s Time
Playwright: Garreth Cruickshank
Director: Garreth Cruickshank
Cast: Russell Cronin, Jack Douglas, Kitty Hopwood, Annette van Roden

Theatre review
Two short plays, both concerned with marriage, form a double bill entitled Sex & Death. The first, Something In The Basement by Don Nigro is ostensibly about the mystery of sex, and the second, It’s Time by Garreth Cruickshank, deals with family violence. They both point to some fundamental ideas about the traditional unity of two persons, perhaps questioning the validity of that ancient institution for our current times.

Something In The Basement is a comedic exploration of sex, using the basement of a couple’s home as allegory, for the strange workings of compatibility and the libido. Humour is obscure for the piece, and its performers never quite manage to make it a sufficiently funny show. The meanings, as represented by their relationship with each other and with their house, too are rarely satisfactorily conveyed, left abstract with scant resonance. The production’s naturalistic approach seems an inappropriate choice, exposing only the mundanity of married life, and little else besides.

It’s Time dwells on the harrowing experiences of a housewife from the 1950s, who receives regular beatings from her husband. We meet her later in life, but it is her recollections of her darkest days that she wishes to share. Mrs O’Brien tells all, as flashbacks are introduced, with regrettable inelegance as actors walk in and out of view for sequences that last mere seconds. Annette van Roden plays the role with great sensitivity and maturity, exhibiting exceptional strength as a woman put through the wringer, and who emerges victorious. We wish to see how she escapes abuse and grows stronger in the aftermath, but the play ends abruptly, allowing only her suffering to define this version of Mrs O’Brien.

The people in Sex & Death fail at marriage, but we see them work hard at salvaging things to fulfil their commitments. Marriage is full of promise. We are told that it is essential to a good life, although arguments are never more than tenuous. Tethering the self to another, through measures religious and legal, is a bizarre habit that continues to prove hard to break. We aim to understand ourselves through science, logic and facts, but it often appears that irrationality plays the biggest part in being human. There is no rhyme or reason for so much of what we do, and hence we are prone to repeat our foibles time and again. Marriage will never live up to the grandness of its pitch, but we will nonetheless keep buying in. It is romance, idealism and delusion, but we are only human.

www.bloodmoontheatre.com