Review: Strangers In Between (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 14 – Mar 2, 2018
Playwright: Tommy Murphy
Director: Daniel Lammin
Cast: Simon Burke, Wil King, Guy Simon
Image by Sarah Walker

Theatre review
Not everyone is lucky enough to have families who offer affection and support. For many LGBTQI people, the system of kinship is often a manufactured one, relying on families that we have chosen for ourselves rather than the ones we were born into. The prejudices that continue to divide us, are very alive in Tommy Murphy’s Strangers In Between, a story that takes place in the early years of this new century. Shane has left the country town of Goulburn, for the bright lights, and acceptance, of the broadminded city folk in Sydney. The teenager runs from the systematic bigotry of home, in search of a community he hopes would be welcoming. Queer children will always be birthed by straight parents, so the threat of domestic conflict will perhaps never completely diminish, therefore Murphy’s tale of belonging can be thought of as a timeless one.

Actor Wil King is dramatic, but convincing, in the role of Shane. Delivering both theatricality and nuance, King is as compelling as he is sensitive, for a depiction of innocence that is unexpectedly moving. His intensity can occasionally prove overbearing, but there is no denying the trenchant perspectives he brings to the stage. The middle-aged gay man Peter, is played by the delightful Simon Burke, who creates a camp and compassionate personality many will find endearingly familiar. It is a delicate performance that combines a cool exterior with a warm heart, to accurately portray a Darlinghurst “scene queen” type. Also very accomplished is Guy Simon, who impresses in his dual roles of Will and Ben, characters as different as night and day, but both equally authentic with all that they convey. Director Daniel Lammin does exceptional work in bringing the play to life. His minimal approach ensures that the bonds that form between the men, are depicted with clarity and profundity, so that the audience is transported to a space of reflection and appreciation for the communities that we are part of.

The LGBTQI rights movement has delivered significant change to perceptions and acceptance, but the more freedoms we attain, the less likely we seem to want to attach ourselves to ideas of community. The Darlinghurst in Strangers In Between, from just thirteen years ago, has now lost its vibrancy. What was once a tight-knit locale, is now dispersed and aloof. The queer city slickers today are powerful and entitled, protected by advancements in attitudes and legislation. We no longer hold on to each other for dear life. In the past, young ones like Shane were able to fall into the nurturing arms of Oxford Street, but what happens today and hereafter, looks to be ever less optimistic.

www.dontbedown.net | www.fortyfivedownstairs.com

Review: Joan (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 16 – 18, 2018
Playwright: Lucy J Skilbeck
Director: Lucy J Skilbeck
Cast: Lucy Jane Parkinson
Image by Robert Day

Theatre review
When they burned Joan of Arc to death at the age of 19, it was punishment for the charge of heresy, of dressing in men’s clothes. In Lucy J Skilbeck’s Joan, we acknowledge the warrior as a queer figure, finally indulging in the highly probable idea that the hero was in fact transgender. For those whose gender identities are never a complicated matter, this might seem a little like making mountains out of molehills, but for many LGBTQI individuals, Joan’s story of persecution is one that needs to be recognised for what it is.

In Skilbeck’s revised account of events, we sometimes see Joan as a lesbian in love with Saint Catherine, sometimes a drag king, but mostly we are encouraged, finally, to regard Joan as a person unable to comply with age-old rules of gender. The masculine armour was not merely an instrument of practicality for the fighter. We now know those struggles to be commonplace, that trans people exist everywhere, and that we always were. The restoration of queer and trans perspectives in our legends and histories is crucial to the way we think about ourselves, and represents an urgent demand that society validates all our contributions to the world; past, present and future.

Lucy Jane Parkinson showcases a wealth of talents, as performer of the one-person show. A captivating presence, versatile and confident in their effortless vacillation between goofy and sentimental, Parkinson presents a character determined to steal our hearts one way or another. Their ability to maintain a personal connection with all of the audience, for the show’s entire duration, is a stunning feat, achieved through an intense sense of vulnerability and a precise, exhaustive familiarity with the work.

Joan of Arc’s legend was always about gender, yet for centuries, that story was told with a major obfuscation at its very core. When society refuses trans people the freedom to be ourselves, by misgendering us, and by forcing us to adhere to its narrow definitions of gender, that cruelty and injustice will invariably have reverberations beyond the immediate, and the damage caused is always greater than any of us would be ready to admit. This is why reinstating Joan’s truth in our historical memory, for the benefit of LGBTQI generations hereafter, is important. The meaning of gender is little more than the imposition of restrictions, to manufacture a system of control over individuals. It benefits few, yet virtually all of us participate in its fictions. We can dream to demolish these beliefs, but before we reach that point of enlightenment, all these rules have to be loosened, if only to salvage what is left of our humanity.

www.milkpresents.com

5 Questions with Markesha McCoy and Madison McKoy

Markesha McCoy

Madison McKoy: How did you come to be involved in The View Upstairs?
Markesha McCoy: I flew to Sydney to be a part of Trevor Ashley’s new panto The Bodybag. It was a hilarious parody based off of the cult classic The Bodyguard. One of the producers for The View Upstairs, Gus Murray, played our strapping bodyguard and asked me if I wanted to stick around and be a part of the show. I’m so glad he did because I’m having an amazing time.

What’s challenging about bringing this script to life?
Teaching the audience about the tragic events that took place and the inequality we still face today while still making them laugh as well.

How is your character similar to and/or different from you?
We are very similar. We both love hard but keep a stone cold face. Hard to trust but once we do, we’ll do anything for anyone we’ve brought into our lives. The only difference I feel we have is our sexual preference haha.

Without giving anything away, what is your favourite line of dialogue from the show?
“I’m not just a basic bitch, another wannabe nouveau riche tipping toward a breakdown.”

If you had a magic wand, what role/show would you do next?
Aida in Aida.

Madison McKoy

Markesha McCoy: What’s your favourite colour?
Madison McKoy: My fave colour is purple. Yellow is a close second.

If you could have dinner with three of your favourite celebrities, dead or alive, who would it be?
Janet Jackson: I’ve loved her music and performance since primary school.
Barak Obama: I’d love to chat with him about life in general.
Suzanne Vega: The lyrics and melodies to her folk-style music are wonderful. I was turned on to her by a mate back in the 80s. Actually, we probably wouldn’t eat. We’d just sing. 🙂

What has been your favourite role to play?
I played Jim in the musical Big River some years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. It’s def a role I’d like to play again.

So you’re originally from America, whats something you miss from the States?
Yes. I’m originally from North Carolina and migrated to Australia in 1994. My family is the main thing I miss. I used to miss Oreo biscuits, I mean, cookies but you can get them in Oz these days. When I first arrived, they were only available in gourmet food stores. Yes, I actually paid $15.00 for a bag of Oreos, ha ha ha.

What can you learn from your character Willie in The View Upstairs?
Willie is a man of the world. He’s definitely seen some things! Some of his top advice is to keep living, keep trying to better yourself, and be kind to others.

Markesha McCoy and Madison McKoy can be seen in The View Upstairs the musical.
Dates: 8 Feb – 11 Mar, 2018
Venue: Hayes Theatre

Review: The View Upstairs (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 8 – Mar 11, 2018
Book, Music & Lyrics: Max Vernon
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Henry Brett, Thomas Campbell, Nick Errol, Ryan Gonzalez, Martelle Hammer, Anthony Harkin, David Hooley, Markesha McCoy, Madison McKoy, Stephen Madsen
Image by John McCrae

Theatre review
Wes is an obnoxious brat, a twenty-something social media star escaping New York, for the less competitive town of New Orleans. The View Upstairs by Max Vernon imagines a hallucinatory haze, in which our protagonist encounters the inhabitants of a local gay bar circa 1973. It is a musical in which the gay Millennial travels over time and space to meet his cultural forebears, for historical lessons about those whose shoulders he stands on. In 2018 we have finally arrived at a time, when many young queers of Western civilisations are oblivious to the arduous journey required, to attain our current state of equality and tolerance. Wes takes things for granted and lives a reckless life, until he comes face to face with stories he never knew would resonate at such depth.

The View Upstairs is an undoubtedly well-meaning piece of writing, with beautiful sentimentality and a pervasive warmth, but its songs and narrative structure bear a derivative quality that is less than inspiring. Director Shaun Rennie focuses cleverly, on bringing heart and soul to the production, keeping us emotionally engaged in spite of the meandering, lacklustre plot. Isabel Hudson’s colourful set design is appropriately humorous; effective in its recollection of a period remembered for being less than aesthetically sophisticated, but infinitely more genuine in the way communities interact.

A charming cast performs the show, impressively well-rehearsed and with great ardour. Leading man Henry Brett is eminently convincing as Wes, bringing a wonderful intensity to the more dramatic scenes, and consistently bowling us over with some truly sensational singing. Similarly gifted is Markesha McCoy, whose voice is capable of bringing any house down, and on this occasion, we are grateful to be audience to her magnificence. Martelle Hammer and David Hooley are memorable for contributing a dimension of vulnerability to the story, both striking in the authenticity they deliver through their portrayals of the underclass.

Without the knowledge of how things have come to be, so much of daily life can seem meaningless. The immense achievements of the gay rights movement are enjoyed by so many of us in the West today, but it is becoming increasingly evident, that those who benefit most, are least aware of the sacrifices required to arrive at this point of evolution. LGBTQI elders had all wished for brighter futures, but few had imagined that with the eradication of prejudice, comes the blind ignorance of entitlement. The best qualities of humanity, whether compassion, resilience or ingenuity, are often derived from great adversity. When life becomes easy for our children, we have to worry about the virtues they fail to cultivate.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: Metamorphoses (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 8 – Mar 10, 2018
Playwright: Mary Zimmerman
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Claudette Clarke, Deborah Galanos, Jonny Hawkins, David Helman, Sam Marques, Bardiya McKinnon, Diana Popovska, Hannah Raven, Sebastian Robinson, Zoe Terakes
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses is a retelling of Greek tales; a collection of short stories from ancient times that continue to fascinate, in this epoch of secular pragmatism. Celestial beings and supernatural events that defy explanation, yet instinctively comprehensible, and resonant with our natural appreciation for the magical, conspire as though to impart moral lessons. It is uncertain if we can learn anything new from these antiquated recurring tales, but as a work of art, what Metamorphoses does achieve, supersedes the traditional functions of mythologies.

All the great passions we associate with Aphrodite, Eros, Orpheus, et al. are retained in the production, to serve as vehicle for director Dino Dimitriadis’ exhilarating investigations into themes of gender, sex and beauty. The penises and breasts of performers are ascribed, as though at random, to characters with intractably gendered pronouns, confronting our beliefs about the woman-man binary. When Myrra appears with a penis, and Midas with an ample bosom, we cannot help but question these visions. We know the experience of gender to be real, but Metamorphoses presents them as hallucinatory, urging us to expand our understanding of the relationship between human anatomy and human nature. Its persistent queering of these origin stories, again and again, works with the plasticity of our minds, to help us dismantle and defeat useless and quite harmful restrictions, so that a process of intellectual and intuitive transformation may occur for us all.

Featuring an impossibly attractive cast, including David Helman and Hannah Raven who beguile us with their extraordinary physique and sensational burlesque expertise, adding an unexpected dimension of decadent performativity to an atmosphere that is already disarmingly sensual. Deborah Galanos and Jonny Hawkins bring us some very big personalities, so deeply satisfying in this rare occasion of exquisite flamboyance. Sam Marques, Diana Popovska and Sebastian Robinson deliver memorable sequences of dramatic poignancy, utilising both god-given and cultivated talents to connect with our desire for meaning and inspiration. Claudette Clark, Bardiya McKinnon and Zoe Terakes are soulful presences with delicate vulnerabilities that draw us in. These heavenly bodies are positioned on stage, inviting us to embrace all the wonder and horror that we are, in the most liberating, poetically earthy way.

Extravagantly imagined, and expertly manifested, the design of Metamorphoses offers a level of aesthetic engagement that is at least as thrilling as the text from which it germinates. Jonathan Hindmarsh’s work on set and costumes represents a lethal combination of resourcefulness and sophistication that is as fabulously enchanting as it is impressive. Lighting designer Benjamin Brockman really goes to town for this show, with a fervent sense of creative freedom irrepressibly evident in every change of illumination, subtle or vivid. Some of Brockman’s images are truly breathtaking. Music may not always be playing prominently, but Ben Pierpoint’s compositions are crucial to how our attention is brought to focus for each scene. The quality of transcendence he is able to introduce to these otherworldly spaces, is thoroughly remarkable.

The language of beauty is being spoken in Metamorphoses. Much of what the show communicates, resides beyond the capacity of words, and its success as an entity of fine art, makes it an exemplary work of modern Australia theatre. We gather in these communal spaces to address a need, but we rarely know the nature of that appetite. Often, we find ways to verbalise the results, but when we see great art, the gravity of what is left unsaid, must never be underestimated, and on this occasion, it is the complex feelings that keep evading explanation, that hold its true value.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

Review: Fucking Men (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 6 – Mar 10, 2018
Playwright: Joe DiPietro
Director: Mark Nagle
Cast: Jackson Blair-West, Michael Brindley, Stanley Browning, John Michael Burdon, Anthony Finch, Ray Mainsbridge, Tom Marwick, Nick Pes, Anton Smilek, Pete Walters
Image by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Replace all the women with men in Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play La Ronde, and we have Joe DiPietro’s Fucking Men, about men having sex with other men. It is now the 21st century of course, and although the concept of monogamy is still an interesting matter of discussion, there is something awkwardly regressive about watching gay men struggle with sexual conformity, at a time when their rights are finally being protected at equal measure by the law. With hackneyed issues of fidelity and coming out as its main areas of concern, the work can easily be mistaken for being of an earlier era of gay liberation, some thirty years or so ago.

Fucking Men is strictly about gay culture in the West, and this production features a big cast of white men speaking in Australian accents, in case we misinterpret its intentions and try to imagine the action taking place in some third-world nation. It is true, that these stories remain real to gay men in developed countries, but audiences would be hard pressed to find anything new in DiPietro’s depiction of gay identities that have not already been represented time and time again.

Mark Nagle’s direction of the work has some exuberance, and its embrace of the play’s frequent requirements of partial nudity is inevitably entertaining, but the show fails to escape the fundamentally prudish essence of the text. It wants our feathers to be ruffled by all the promiscuous goings on, but it all grows tiresome quickly, without a more radical or refreshing approach to discussing sex. Performances are uneven, with a big range of acting abilities, from the obviously amateur to some quite accomplished, but the cast shows a good sense of dedication to the staging, in spite of the unfortunately banal material.

It is valuable to have art talk about minority issues, to its own communities. There are no women, and no straight men in Fucking Men. It centres everything on the gay experience, and addresses its audience from that particular perspective, without concessions or compromise. There is integrity in a theatre that chooses an audience that is less mainstream and less commercial, for we all need to be reminded that our place in the world does matter.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: An Act Of God (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 2 – 25, 2018
Playwright: David Javerbaum
Directors: Mitchell Butel, Richard Carroll
Cast: Mitchell Butel, Alan Flower, Laura Murphy
Image by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
The Christian God comes to deliver a new set of ten commandments in David Javerbaum’s An Act Of God. It is an intriguing proposition, that God would admit to being imperfect. He remains omnipotent, fret not, but this version of the Almighty concedes he had made some very big mistakes, and has decided that it is perhaps time, finally, to rectify two millennium worth of erroneous beliefs.

The play is a fascinating evaluation of religion, and its impact on all of us, regardless of where our faiths reside. It shapes our values, as they stand today, in contrast with outdated precepts that many still insist on upholding. The transformation of God into something closer to a modern day being, as opposed to a purely idealistic creature of fantasy, pushes Javerbaum’s humanist arguments with great efficacy, although the humour of An Act Of God can be inconsistently compelling. Directed by Mitchell Butel and Richard Carroll, the show is relentlessly effervescent, with a flamboyance that sustains our attention confidently, but the writing offers punchlines that seem overly polite within its raucous atmosphere.

Leading man Butel is near faultless in his portrayal of the big man himself, meticulous in approach, with expert timing in his delivery of every line, even when the jokes struggle to meet their comedic objective. Exposed and vulnerable, Butel has nothing to hide behind, in this very immediate staging of God’s presence, and the actor emerges triumphant with a brilliant display of sheer skill and grit. Also noteworthy are the many significant adaptations to the script, in its transposition from America to Australia. Presenting an Aussie version of the Lord above is a shrewd decision, proving so popular, one could hardly imagine any viable alternative.

An Act Of God does not attempt to change our minds about His existence, but it urges us to take responsibility for life on earth regardless. It wants us to give up any notion that the faults of the world are of hallowed design; we have to take charge no matter what we believe about prayer. There may not be any controversial or new ideas in the play, but it provides clarity to secular and religious conceptions of our being, that are often entangled and rarely identified with sufficient veracity. Whatever we wish to happen in the hereafter, our part in the now can never be taken lightly. If humanity is made in God’s image, what we are able to accomplish, must never be underestimated.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com