Review: Eleanor & Mary Alice (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Dec 5 – 8, 2018
Playwright: Peta Tait
Director: Deborah Leiser-Moore
Cast: Petra Kalive, Sarah McNeill

Theatre review
Mary Alice Evatt was wife to Doc Herbert Evatt, Australia’s Minister of External Affairs during WWII. When the USA first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt arrived on our shores for a Sydney visit, the two women struck up a friendship, and in Petat Tait’s Eleanor & Mary Alice, we watch them bond over being married to power, both keenly aware of responsibilities they have to manage. They talk about art, politics and justice, finding solace in a mutuality based on implicit understanding. The play imagines, in a charming realistic style, conversations that could have taken place, but in the absence of more audacious artistic liberties, the cultivation of dramatic tension becomes a challenge. The personalities are fairly likeable, but they exist in a world too distant, and we fail to find enthusiasm for either of their narratives.

Deborah Leiser-Moore’s direction attempts to deliver a sense of unconventionality by immersing the actors in the aisles, and having them perform very close to the audience. The unusual positioning of their physical presence helps prevent monotony, but it is arguable if the imagery being created, is actually effective in keeping us engaged with Eleanor & Mary Alice. Actor Petra Kalive exudes a warmth that makes Mrs Evatt seem a empathetic character, whilst Sarah McNeill takes a more formal approach for Mrs Roosevelt. They establish an enjoyable rhythm with the dialogue, aided by cellist Adi Sappir who provides ethereal accompaniment throughout the piece.

The production is staged on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as developed by the United Nations, through the original committee of which Mrs Roosevelt was head of. The concept of human rights is as resonant today as it had been all those years ago. Even in the most peaceful of countries, we remain vigilant, wary of how people’s freedoms can be encroached upon, usually in surreptitious ways. In the name of security, of religion, and of tradition, we seem never to be able to stop the urge to oppress. Minority groups especially, are constantly in danger of being identified as enemies du jour. Old war stories can sometimes be uninspiring, but they all remind us of the monsters within, the ones who wait for moments of careless negligence, to once again rear their ugly heads.

www.seymourcentre.com

Review: The Laramie Project & The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 28 – Dec 8, 2018
Playwrights: Moises Kaufman and members of Tectonic Theater Project
Directors: Carly Fisher, Rosie Niven
Cast: John Michael Burdon, Laura Djanegara, Andrew Hofman, Francisco Lopez, Linda Nicholls-Gidley, Matthew Pritchard, Dominique Purdue, Emily Richardson, Charlotte Tilelli
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
The brutal murder of 21 year-old gay man Matthew Shepard in 1998, endures in our collective memory, partly because of Tectonic Theater Project’s seminal work The Laramie Project. Utilising techniques of verbatim theatre, the group’s exhaustive research and interview processes have resulted in an exceptionally powerful work that confronts homophobia, in a manner that is much more far reaching than its very localised context might suggest. Along with its follow-up The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, both pieces combine to offer a truthful and complex study of hate in communities, examining the way it operates, and reflecting on its disheartening tenacity.

Directed in tandem by Carly Fisher and Rosie Niven, it is a dynamic and stirring staging of the pair of plays, with innovative use of space ensuring optimum poignancy for every pertinent message in this Laramie cycle. Lighting design by Martin Kinnane is particularly effective in regulating dramatic intensity, and proves invaluable in the smooth execution of countless scene transitions.

Performing a very extensive range of roles, is a remarkably cohesive ensemble, including John Michael Burdon and Charlotte Tilelli who leave strong impressions with their varied and often flamboyant approaches to their respective catalogues of personalities. Also memorable are Andrew Hofman and Dominique Purdue who dial up the emotions, in several affecting sequences delivered with complete and unequivocal vulnerability.

It is now twenty years since Matthew Shepard was killed on that fence, in Small Town USA. The imagery is vivid, a sacrificial lamb hanging off a divide, with residents on either side, split by opinion and perspective. In many ways, we have since advanced as peoples, especially in relation to the legislation of LGBTQI protections and marriage equality, but it is clear that our current climate of disunity in the Twitter and Trump era, is quite unprecedented.

In this digital age, we seem to have lost the capacity to think outside of zeros and ones; everything is torn asunder into left and right, love and hate, good and bad. We make enemies much more quickly than ever before, each of us moving around in hunting mode, with voracious appetites, judging people into categories that do nothing other than to amplify our disdain for a perceived adversary. We need to find ways instead, to embrace the other side, if that is what it takes to take us to the realisation, that the other side does not exist at all.

www.theatretravels.org

Review: The Wild Party (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 15 – 24, 2018
Book: Michael J. Lachiusa, George C. Wolfe
Music & Lyrics: Michael J. Lachiusa
Director: Alexander Andrews
Cast: Michael Boulus, Jack Dawson, Nick Errol, Emily Hart, Prudence Holloway, Matthew Hyde, Tayla Jarrett, Katelin Koprivec, Victoria Luxton, Matilda Moran, Rosalie Neumair, Sophie Perkins, Olivier Rahmé, Zach Selmes, Samuel Skuthorp, Georgina Walker, Simon Ward, Jordan Warren, Madeleine Wighton, Victoria Zerbst
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is New York City in the 1920s, and the party is lit. Bohemian types gather at the behest of volatile lovers Queenie and Burrs; not a single introvert in sight, all thirsty for a good time, ready to make the drama happen. Michael J. Lachiusa and George C. Wolfe’s 2000 musical The Wild Party is a rollicking ride with colourful characters taking us through a succession of exuberant numbers, celebrating life in the most exciting of cities.

Under Alexander Andrews’ direction, The Wild Party is a dazzling, fun-filled romp. Even though its narrative becomes somewhat vague, the production’s relentless vibrancy keeps us engaged and uplifted. Music direction by Conrad Hamill is lush and decadent, a wonderfully evocative element. Outstanding choreography by Madison Lee brings unexpected sophistication. Imaginative and adventurous, Lee’s work is thoroughly compelling, and along with dance captain Sophie Perkins’ efforts, it is the way bodies move through every second in this staging, that proves truly splendid. A group of 5 chorines, Victoria Luxton, Matilda Moran, Rosalie Neumair, Jordan Warren and the aforementioned Perkins, are the stars, brilliant with their spirit and charm, extraordinarily cohesive with all that they present.

Georgina Walker plays a very alluring Queenie, with an attitude and physical gestures that are flawlessly reminiscent of that bygone era. Sound engineering is often deficient, and Walker’s voice suffers as a result, but the intricacy of her performance is no less impressive. Prudence Holloway and Victoria Zerbst take on flamboyant roles with extravagant aplomb, both actors fierce and fabulous.

Parties are worth little when participants are unable to let their hair down, but as we see in The Wild Party, things can go too far. Art however, plays by different rules, and social transgressions are often an important part of how it can create impact. Considering the context, this staging is perhaps slightly polite, so it is never really able to provide much more than entertainment. To be wild, is to explore boundaries and question the rules. Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes may well be liked by everyone, but she is unlikely to have left an indelible mark anywhere.

www.littletriangle.com.au

5 Questions with Laura Djanegara and Francisco Lopez

Laura Djanegara

Francisco Lopez: What do you love most about theatre in Sydney?
Laura Djanegara: I love the incredible array of talented and driven people that there are in the arts in Sydney. There are so many incredible and hardworking people in theatre in all its areas, cast and crew alike, that there is a lot to be inspired by. I also like that there is still a great sense of community in theatre. Back in Perth where I grew up, the theatre world was quite small but they cultivated a strong sense of community in theatre. Even though the industry here is much bigger, in my experience you still often have mutual friends with other theatre makers and that I really like.

What have you found most challenging about working on The Laramie Project or The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later?
It is a challenge making sure that each of your characters is distinct, especially when they are some that have fewer lines than others. Having clear and differing personalities for so 10+ characters can be tricky. Also, the narrator lines!

What has been your most memorable experience within the LGBTIQ+ community?
I think it would have to be when a dear friend of mine did a performance outlining why he wanted to be able to marry his partner one day. It was before the marriage equality vote and it was such a well written and performed piece that I felt truly positioned to see his point of view. That his love wasn’t wrong and wasn’t there to offend anyone. It was just love. I’d always been for marriage equality because it just makes sense to me but this performance was the first moment it really hit me in the heart. His love for his partner was so beautiful, it really moved me.

What do you wish most for the next generation of LGBTIQ+ Australians?
I wish very much for the next generation of LGBTIQ+ Australians to have acceptance, love and understanding. I was with a friend the other day and someone rolled down their car window to yell obscenities at them because they perceived them to be gay. It made me really angry. I think people have the right to make their own decisions about how they live and love. I wish this next generation doesn’t find it hard to be who they are. I wish for them a sense of belonging.

What can audiences expect to walk away with after seeing The Laramie Project or The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later?
I think a great sense of compassion and empathy. What I really like about this play is the way it doesn’t shy away from the humanity in it all. You hear from all differing views on what happened and from that you draw a clear view of how divided people can be within themselves. This murder forced people to look on their own views towards homosexuality and acceptance. I don’t think it’s enough to tolerate something – that just means putting up with something you are opposed to. This play focuses on the ‘why’ of the opposition. If it can have that effect on an audience it would be a very important experience

Francisco Lopez

Laura Djanegara: What drew you to this production and why should Sydney audiences see it?
Francisco Lopez: I had never read The Laramie Project. I knew it existed and I had a vague knowledge of Matthew Shepard’s horrific death by a fence. Maybe it sounded too horrific for me to accept; and too recent of an event. After having to fight for marriage equality last year, right here in Australia, I want to keep talking about what is holding us back from true acceptance of the LGBTIQ+ community. The Laramie Project goes beyond branding individuals as homophobes, and studies a whole town’s make up in relation to this tragedy. I invite audiences to see our two plays to remember what any equal rights movement is up against. It’s easy to believe we have made a lot of progress when we examine the horrors of the past, or the atrocities in distant parts of the world. The Laramie Project reminds us of the forces constantly present in our own communities today.

In a show of this nature where you play multiple characters, what has been the biggest challenge for you as an actor?
I play more than ten characters across the two plays, some of them appearing in both plays. There are many challenges that come with stepping into characters of different ages, professions, and belief structures. I think my biggest challenge was understanding that ultimately, these people cannot be too far away from who I am. I don’t have to wear wigs, fake noses or outrageous costumes. I may very well have said the things these people said in different circumstances. And I’m reminded that this play shows audiences just that – that Laramie is not that different from their own communities.

Which character in either play would you most like to act as and why?
I don’t know if it’s just because of the actor playing her (wink, wink, Laura!) – but Romaine Patterson, a friend of Matthew Shepard, seems like such a bad-ass in the best of ways! She wanted to be a rock star and instead became an activist who inspired so much social change across the USA. She even takes on Fred Phelps in one of the plays!

The shows are set in 1998 and 2008 respectively, what was your life like in 1998 and 2008?
Oof… in 1998 I was in Year 11 at a Catholic school in one of two Victorian electorates that voted No to marriage equality. It was my last year of studying drama, as I went on to study maths and sciences in the pursuit of academic glory. I was good at performing in life – so I had a great time in high school with some beautiful friends. I went on to be school captain and school dux – even if I wasn’t being 100% honest with myself about who I wanted to be. In 2008 I was improving workflows in an emergency department by day, and producing a community television show about Hispanic and Latin American culture by night. I was a very busy young man – and very curious about the world beyond my upbringing. That year I travelled to Dubai, London, Israel and the West Bank.

Describe The Laramie Project in 5 words.
Tragic. Hopeful. Brave. Compassionate. Love.

Laura Djanegara and Francisco Lopez can be seen in The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later.
Dates: 28 Nov – 8 Dec, 2018
Venue: Seymour Centre

5 Questions with Alex Mau and Olivier Rahmé

Alex Mau

Olivier Rahmé: If you could play any one role in the show, which one would it be?
Alex Mau: Queenie, of course! Who doesn’t want to play a blonde? Queenie is such a wonderful, three-dimensional female role, something we could do with more of in theatre! When the party is lit, Queenie is living her best life, sassing it up with her BFF Kate, throwing shade at the grand dame Dolores and killing it with her signature dance move, the “Black Bottom”. Come dawn, Queenie breaks it down with the most poignant and touching ballads in the show, alongside the gorgeous hunk Black. Queenie has so much light and shade, it would be so amazing to play her but, fortunately for you, I won’t be doing that and, instead, you’ll have triple threat and all-round superstar, Georgina Walker, portraying this once-in-a-lifetime role!

Which role excites you most in the rehearsal room? Why?
The director! I am in awe of how our director, Alexander Andrews, always does unique and refreshing takes on classics, such as Little Triangle’s inaugural production of Sunday In The Park with George and its sophomore production of Merrily We Roll Along. He encourages the cast to bring themselves to the characters, creating really interesting and fully-developed interpretations of characters that could otherwise be simple caricatures. I couldn’t stress enough than audiences should see this production of The Wild Party – not only is it a rarely produced musical in Australian theatre, you’ll definitely want to see what Alexander Andrews does with this amazing material!

What’s a funny/crazy/interesting thing you’ve picked up on in the rehearsal room?
The Chorines are like the bubbly and hilarious Greek Chorus of The Wild Party (portrayed by Victoria Luxton, Matilda Moran, Sophie Perkins, Jordan Warren & Rosalie Neumair). Being incredible dancers, our fabulous choreographer, Madison Lee, has given them heaps of intense and electric choreography that it feels like they’re doing full-body workouts throughout the entire show! It’s crazy how effortlessly they smash that chorey and then go on to belt those group numbers like they eat dissonant harmonies for breakfast – #goals. Keep an eye out for what I think is one of their funniest dance moves (in the spirit of 1920s vaudeville), which I would describe as a cross between the spread eagle from Chicago and squats in the air – yes, I can see you trying to picture it, but you’ll just have to come and see it for yourself!

What is the wildest party you’ve ever been too?
What happens at The Wild Party, stays at The Wild Party.

What do you think the audience’s reaction to The Wild Party will be?
Michael John LaChiusa (composer and lyricist for The Wild Party) is well-known for writing complex theatre scores so I think audiences will be expecting some very challenging, intellectual theatre. Alexander Andrews has taken an interesting and refreshing interpretation of bringing out and focusing on the human connections between the characters so, while the music is still technically difficult (which, as a pianist, I love!), I think audiences will be surprised by the humanity and rawness of the story and the characters. Prepare for side-splitting laughter and tear-jerking moments, it’s gonna be a WILD PARTY!

Olivier Rahmé

Alex Mau: Describe The Wild Party in five words?
Olivier Rahmé: Hilarious. Crazy. Shocking. Thrilling. Eye-opening.

What drew you to The Wild Party and why should people see it?
A lot of my friends have worked with Little Triangle before, so I was thrilled, humbled and so excited to be a part of such a reputable company. People should come to the show because of the impact a show like this can have on you – that’s what I love about theatre. As actors we hope the audience members gain something from the performance; to leave with something to think about & to be impacted. I truly believe The Wild Party succeeds in doing this.

What surprised you most about The Wild Party and what do you think will surprise audiences the most?
I love how meaty some of the roles are and how the actor has so much to play with. The script offers a lot and doesn’t box any character into being one thing. Many of us show all sorts of colour, which I love. I think the audience will be surprised by the level of talent – So. Many. BEAUTIFUL. Actors! And the voices are really shown off. My hat goes off to the production team for their casting.

Tell us a little about your character Eddie and how your approach to the character has changed over time.
When I first started reacting to the energies the other actors were giving me and read the script, I thought… Eddie is awful. What an awful man. Perfect. I can do that! But exploring his journey more and trying to figure out why Eddie does some of the things he does, I’ve now realised; Eddie isn’t a bad person. He is a defeated person who does a horrific and unforgivable thing. He struggles a lot with his identity and doesn’t quite know how to be happy – constantly masking his unhappiness and failures by blaming how life turned out on his beautiful wife Mae (Emily Hart). Sidenote: Emily’s belt may or may not be a solid and definite reason you need to see this show).

Tell us a little about the most challenging thing about the role.
The most challenging this I find is the final scene with Eddie towards the end of the show when he abuses everybody both verbally and physically. Emotionally and physically this section is exhausting for me as the actor. I definitely feel my body and mind tiring out after a few runs of this scene!

Alex Mau is répétiteur/pianist and Olivier Rahmé plays Eddie in The Wild Party, the musical.
Dates: 15 – 24 Nov, 2018
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: Freud’s Last Session (Clock & Spiel Productions)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 30 – Nov 10, 2018
Playwright: Mark St. Germain
Director: Hailey McQueen
Cast: Yannick Lawry, Nicholas Papademetriou
Images by Alison Lee Rubie

Theatre review
Two men, one atheist and one Christian have an intelligent, and civilised, discussion about the existence of God, in Mark St. Germain’s Freud’s Last Session. A fictional account of Sigmund Freud, approaching the end of life, inviting C.S. Lewis in for a meeting, presumably to help allay inevitable fears of impending death. Everything they talk about is relevant, even fundamental to our very being, but these are ideas we have tossed around in our minds many times, with decisions settled for each individual years ago. Some might be able to see new light on old questions and find the play intellectually stimulating, but for most, the best it can offer is an opportunity to hear the other side of arguments, within its stringently binary presentation of truths.

It is a polished production, with Hailey McQueen’s direction giving the theological themes an elegant and balanced focus. Tyler Ray Hawkins’ work on set decoration is noteworthy for its visual flair, cleverly manufacturing a sense of vibrant theatricality whilst maintaining realism in Freud’s office. Both actors deliver solid performances, with Nicholas Papademetriou particularly convincing as the ailing psychoanalyst, accurate in his portrayal of a legendary figure in his last days, but in a manner that is charmingly playful, to have us engaged and entertained. Lewis is played by Yannick Lawry, appropriately uptight, with an energetic presence that keeps things lively for his audience.

Life is mysterious, so there is no surprise that we often respond by embracing ideas that pertain to the supernatural. Science is in the business of demystification, but our nature seems not to permit an end to human interrogations; for every answer we discover, further questions will arise. The world is determined to be unknowable, yet we desire only to thrive on certainty. God may or may not exist, but if we agree that our time on earth is real, it should then follow that our emphasis must always be concerned with the here and now. The truth however is that, whatever we think is holy up above, has served to divide us. We see ourselves doing unspeakably cruel things to one another in the name of God, yet are unable to disown religious doctrines, refusing to acknowledge the harm that it can cause. The world has never been without Gods, so to imagine ourselves as entirely secular, although an appealing idea, is probably futile. The next best thing would be to trust that each of us can learn to be better persons with each passing day, no matter how ridiculous our personal beliefs.

www.clockandspielproductions.com

5 Questions with Yannick Lawry and Nicholas Papademetriou

Yannick Lawry

Nicholas Papademetriou: How confident would C S be today in a theological debate?
Yannick Lawry: I reckon Jack (apparently he hated the name Clive and used the name Jack all his life!) would have a decent answer for most theological questions. Even in our age of ‘hyper enlightenment’. The thing I’m less sure about is how he’d cope with debating in an age where it’s so easy to offend and apologies are rarely accepted..

If Lewis could date any modern celebrity of today who would it be and why?
In the context of Freud’s Last Session, Freud suggests Lewis was attracted to older, virtuous women after losing his mother at a young age. His wife, Joy Davidman, was an American poet and – like Lewis – converted to Christianity later in life. So a mature, devout, artistically minded woman from the other side of the Pacific. Unlikely to be anyone we know from the pages of OK! magazine!

What are you enjoying most as an actor about working on this production?
Our rehearsal process is somewhat intense. I’ve never had to work so hard to make using archaic props like pocket watches, gas masks and transistor radios look quite so natural, and I’m loving watching Nico as a master of character acting bring life and depth to Freud.

If Lewis actually met God what’s the first thing you think he would he ask him?
“Why this great test of life on earth before the great reward of heaven?”

Are you finding the play is making you question any of your own beliefs or theories?
Yes. Outing myself as a believer here, Freud’s arguments about theologians hiding behind their ignorance and creating a God-of-the-gaps where their explanations run dry still rings true in 2018, and has been one of my biggest difficulties with faith. Though I’ve equally enjoyed learning and absorbing Lewis’s many rational arguments for faith in the God of the Bible. Between Freud and Lewis on stage, I still don’t know who wins the argument in the show. Maybe we should give our audiences a scorecard each night!

Nicholas Papademetriou

Yannick Lawry: You’re playing Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalyis. To what extend does Freud’s Last Session portray him as the definition of sanity?
Nicholas Papademetriou: I think in today’s world he’ll come across as an eccentric but intelligent cuckoo. Although perhaps he was perceived as that in his day as well. He’s a combination of nerd, grumpy old man and nutty German psychoanalyst so he may not seem entirely sane, but he’s slightly insane in a good way.

What’s the most controversial thing Freud says or does in the show?
I suppose the most controversial thing he says is his comment about people’s sexuality – for the time, he was quite sensational. His open acceptance would have made him an absolute darling of the LGBTI community.

What’s the most controversial thing you’ve said or done personally (that you’re comfortable sharing with me)?
I have done and said so many controversial things in my life, the list would be far too long to list here (including being a stand-in for a hooker one night). But is that controversial or sensational? Or just plain stupid?

Theatre is a dying art, apparently. What do you reckon is ‘in’ theatre, both for audiences and artists?
I think theatre that is unpretentious, entertaining and easy to connect with is what really makes it for me. If symbolism, plot, message or themes need to be explained to me, then that is what would make theatre a dying art for me. Freud’s Last Session is definitely in!

Fart jokes, or highbrow humour?
I like my fart jokes to be highbrow. And my highbrow to be like dainty farts.

Yannick Lawry and Nicholas Papademetriou can be seen in Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain.
Dates: 29 October – 10 November, 2018
Venue: Seymour Centre