The Colour of August | Purple Mustache Productions

The Colour of AugustPaloma Pedrero’s short two-hander depicts an awkward, emotionally-charged reunion between two women, the successful artist Maria (Paula Roman) and the down-and-out but indomitable Laura (Mariana Soares). Having lived together for much of their lives in an evidently fraught relationship, these women come together after several years of estrangement in a meeting that one has engineered without the other’s knowledge.

Lubricated with much whiskey, the once intimate women begin to discuss and avoid many different topics pertaining to their former life together and the directions in which they have later diverged. Clearly, they have shared something very profound, and it is wrapped up in both joy and considerable animosity. Dealing with what they mean to each other after this time apart is the real guts of this play, and it is by no means straightforward.

This production has been touted as being about “covert lesbians”, but that seems an overly simplistic label for the convoluted relationship presented. Given the characters’ expressed sexual histories, one would be tempted to use the term bisexual instead, however given that this play was written in the social climate of 1980s Spain, one must allow for cultural differences to result in some inevitable difficulty when trying to impose such definitions. While this makes it harder to interpret the nuances of sexual identity politics that the playwright is portraying, one should realise that, at any rate, sexuality per se doesn’t really seem to be the central concern here so much as the whole spectrum of emotional issues that contribute to this complex and often inscrutable relationship.

It is probably worth saying, if you haven’t already gleaned this from the advertising, that the play does feature both actresses stripping nude (well, technically just topless) and painting each other’s bodies. Whether this is an incentive or a discouragement to see the show is entirely up to you. I will just note that the nakedness is not particularly prolonged, so those expecting (or wanting to avoid) a lengthy perv should be forewarned.

Pedrero has a writing style that is relatively un-stagey, the whole play takes the form of one scene of continuous realtime action, although the (uncredited) translation does seem a little formal at times. Further to the neorealist goal, exposition is distributed very cautiously in this work, seeping out gradually through conversation without any improbable slabs of information being dropped with a thud, especially when considering the fact that both characters already know much of what the other is talking about due to their shared history. This leads to a bit of a connect-the-dots for the audience, as one has to piece together the nature of their tumultuous rapport as well as their respective relationships to the offstage object of some of their battles, Juan.

A play depicting this degree of emotional intensity (and complexity) requires some strong actors, and this pair shouldn’t disappoint. The voluptuous Soares is quite an accomplished naturalistic actor and certainly one possessing charisma in spades. The heavily-accented Roman is a quite a contrast, not only physically but in her performance, portraying Paula as a very intense, deeply nervous character who swings between extremes of emotion even more than her similarly volatile partner. The two performances are each engrossing in their own right and, more importantly, complement each other. My only complaint is that the two women seemed to be rather young for their roles, although it was difficult to tell exactly how old the characters were meant to be.

Set and costume designer Renata Beslik has done an excellent job with the very detail-oriented set, a believable naturalistic recreation of an artist’s studio on a limited budget, that impressively makes an equally limited performance area seem quite spacious. Mark Cleary, one of the few males involved in this production, has done a good job of directing this play, which has the potential to devolve into shrill hysterics or almost farcically convoluted emotion, but manages to steer clear.

Nevertheless, this play is still not going to appeal to everyone. Virtually devoid of a plot, it is pure drama between two characters with a troubled past, and little else. If piecing together this kind of emotional puzzle is appealing to you, then The Colour of August is likely to be an interesting little nugget of theatre. If not, you may find yourself a bit bemused by it all.


THE COLOR OF AUGUST
by Paloma Pedrero

Venue: Newtown Theatre | Cnr King and Bray Streets, Newtown
Dates: 4 - 29 December
Times: 10.15pm Tues - Sat
Tickets: $20
Bookings: MCA Ticketing 1300 306 776 or www.mca-tix.com

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