|Savage In Limbo | Workhorse Theatre Company|
|Written by lloyd bradford (brad) syke|
|Thursday, 01 November 2012 13:25|
Let's call a spade a shovel. The oppressively stuffy Tap Gallery Theatre, which has a dilapidated charm all its own, doesn't necessarily boast a consistent record as far as quality theatre productions goes. Over the years, it's been patchy. For some time though, things have been looking substantially up. So I was buoyed to learn of Workhorse Theatre Company's presentation of John Patrick Shanley's Savage In Limbo. You probably know Shanley, even though you think you don't: as writer of Moonstruck (which won an Oscar for best original screenplay) and writer and director of Doubt (a Tony Award and Pultitzer Prize winner, to say nothing of five Oscar nominations). Chances are you also know of, say, Joe Versus The Volcano.
The ethos of Workhorse is to bridge the gap between amateur and professional theatre. Workhorse is, in essence, co-founders Katherine Beck, Zoe Trilsbach and Troy Harrison (as well as Nick Bartlett, missing in action for this production), who bring in others as necessary on, dare I say a workhorses for courses basis. For this production, they've effected something of a coup in recruiting veteran of theatre and opera both here and overseas, Stuart Maunder, to direct. You might well know him from Dusty and Shout!
Savage isn't as well-known or as oft-performed as the Oscar-winner's other plays. Probably because it cuts a little deeper and is more emotionally challenging; the last applying for both actors and audiences. This, because it zigs and zags between hilarity and tragedy, with mercilessly disconcerting frequency, so that one hardly knows whether, or when, to laugh, or cry. The premise of characters hanging out in a rundown Bronx bar, that has almost as many dead pot-plants as half-dead regulars, is a comic one. But, equally, a sad one. Shanley plays both sides of the coin. And it's something he knows about, since he's from there. It's billed as a 'concert play', since it has rhythms and movements that emulate the cadence of, for example, a concerto.
Jasmine Christie's faded set and design reflects the jaded dispositions of its inhabitants, while her costumes go a long way towards establishing the characters.
There's Murk (Daniel Corxdeaux), behind the bar, tending to the near comatose April, who's losing her mind, but with whom Murk's quietly obsessed. Like many who do, April (Christina O'Neill) drinks to quell the pain of living. In walks Denise Savage (Beck), a would-be princess, trapped by her co-dependency with her increasingly immobile mother. She spars, routinely, with Murk, who's insistent she orders a drink. It's one of the rules.
By-and-by, they're joined by the dolled-up Linda Rotunda (Trilsbach), who sits and burst into tears. 'You want I should pretend not to notice you're crying?', enquires Savage, in brash, Bronx, cut-to-the-chase fashion. Long, lean Rotunda (who's 'getting fat', according to her) is upset because her boys, Tony Aronica (Harrison) wants to see other women. Ugly women. He's wondering what he's been missing, after an encounter with a woman who, according to him, stepped off the street, into his car, and who told him all about the Soviet Union; though he can't quite remember, for example, why the Russians need American wheat. Anyway, he was so impressed by this learning curve, he took her, on the back seat.
Thanks to Chicago-born dialect coach Beck, the ensemble's accents are reliable; a relief, since this so rarely proves the case.
All the characters are lost, each with a large L engraved on his or her forehead, doomed to years comprised of approximately 365 groundhog days. Each dreams of something better: they have the conceive, but lack the believe and achieve components.
Savage and Rotunda agree to be girlfriends, but figure that, to cement the relationship, they need to 'do somethin' together'. Savage suggests they get a place, as a means to effecting change. Before long, they've been inveigled by April to make it a three-way share. Enter Tony. Savage sees her chance to, at thirty-two, rid herself of that which has been plaguing her for years: her virginity. Without consulting her would-be flatmates, Savage sets upon Tony, making Rotunda see green and red, at once.
But Aronica has his own problems. He doesn't want to be himself anymore and entertains the idea of getting new clothes. Linda contends clothes don't make the man. At least not a new man. Like Tony, all are looking outside themselves for a brand new suit of clothes. A new persona. Boyfriend. Home. Anything that might unleash a Frankenstorm to purge them of old baggage.They're itching to shed their skin and inhabit a fresh one.
To complicate matters more, Linda's pregnant (again; at the outset, Denise taunts, 'you're knocked-up every time you stop walkin', cause you're sloppy and your fertile'). It turns out she already has a child of Tony's, lodged with her aunt. Suddenly, the liberating possibilities each speculated upon vanish.
Characterisations are considered. Performances are compelling. The play is outstanding. I'd observe it's a little overwritten, but even its repetition of themes and dialogue seems, in the end, to be a kind of pointed tedium. For all its comic lines, which have edges as sharp as a cut-throat razor, Savage In Limbo is a bleak, painfully existential meditation on being stuck in a rut that's likely to last a lifetime. It's a cautionary signpost that reads, 'for God's sake, don't settle'. Complacency. Conservatism. Comfort. These are all things that can turn us into the walking dead.
Maunder, Workhorse and co have wrought a fiercely good production. A savage one.
Workhorse Theatre Company presents
Savage In Limbo
by John Patrick Shanley
Venue: TAP Gallery | 278 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst
Dates: Oct 16 – Nov 3, 2012
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