It’s a high note, on which to end a brilliant career. Michael Craig, ably assisted, as it were, by a charming performance from Catherine McGraffin, goes out with a bang in this deservedly lauded American play, by Joanna McClelland Glass (with that triple-barrel, she’d have to be American, wouldn’t she?), real-life secretary to Francis Biddle, (US) Attorney-General under Roosevelt and Chief Judge at the Nuremberg trials. No doubt, this lends credibility to the roundness and idiosyncrasies of Craig’s character and was the very stuff that has led to glowing reviews overseas and which commends it, so strongly, for this, its Australian premiere. Craig can’t now, be too many years younger than Biddle’s sartorially respendent, cantankerous 81, which also helps.
I haven’t been to the Ensemble for many moons and was somewhat daunted by the onslaught of gung-ho seniors at the early Sunday evening performance, but not the redoubtable Mr Craig, who extracts all the juice from this ‘glittering’ prize-on-the-page, directed, sensitively, if not downright poetically, by Sandra Bates.
Designer, Nic Dare, costumier Anna Ilic and light man Peter Neufeld have collaborated - almost conspired - seamlessly, to re-create the ambience of the retired public servant’s home office. One of the highlights is the recurring audiovisual theme wherein a spot frames one or other of a series of paintings, which serve to illustrate an interpolated string of delicate and beautifully ‘narrated’ poems.
The burgeoning caring - nay, loving, in the highest platonic sense - relationship between two independent spirits, of widely differing vintages, instils genuine hope and restores one’s flagging faith in humanity. (At least until such time as one leaves the theatre to find, say, one’s hubcaps missing.)
Granted, you’d have to be very clumsy, as actor, director, or otherwise, to make a real hash of this finely-crafted, uplifting, touching, heart-warming script; yet, there is still much that could’ve gone, or been sent, wildly awry. Nothing has. On the contrary, this is as satisfying an evening in the theatre as one is likely to have. Conventional; trad; fundamentally, it’s just about the writing, and the acting. It needs no embellishments, contrivances or motifs, because it’s as silken and light, yet unctuous, as genuine Canadian maple syrup; just as it should be, since Glass hails, as is clear from the piece itself, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
‘Magnificently eloquent. A masterpiece of theatrical portraiture.’ So said the Chicago Sun-Times. It got it right. So did Bates, Craig, McGraffin, et al.
by Joanna McClelland Glass
Venue: Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli, NSW
Dates: Previews from 3 May, opening night Fri 11 May, season to 16 June, 2007
Times: Tues – Fri 8.15pm, Sat 5pm & 8.30pm, Sun 5pm, Thurs 11am
Tickets: $37 - $61 (booking fees apply)
Bookings: 02 9929 0644 or www.ensemble.com.au