Add six actors, sprinkle four directors, stir in five producers and you’ve got Ball Game, the four tapas-style plays currently showing at Darlinghurst Theatre. They’re the work of acclaimed US playwright turned screenwriter Alan Ball, the genius behind such dark and delicious treats as American Beauty and Six Feet Under.
Ball is one of those writers who understands that when it comes to comedy it’s a delicate matter of balance. Just like a master chef working in a top notch, a la carte restaurant he carefully adds all the ingredients in the right proportions - but beyond that there’s something special that he adds, that extra pinch of magic that lifts the whole thing beyond the realm of the mundane and into the Michelin-star category. Now, imagine for a moment (while I stretch this little cooking metaphor a little bit further) that you’ve stumbled across the recipe of one of the world’s greatest soufflé chefs. You buy all the ingredients. You follow their recipe with painstaking attention. You carefully put it into the oven, and you wait. Now, can you be assured that your soufflé is going to be as light and fluffy and divine as the recipe promises? Or is it just possible that in spite of your very best efforts you open the oven door and watch the whole thing collapse into a sticky heap right before your very eyes. I think you know the answer… which brings me back to Ball Game.
Sadly, whether it’s a case of too many chefs or the misguided intentions of a number of the participants to make the material ‘more funny’, the result is that Ball’s sparkling dialogue and witty cynicism is all but lost in a production that seems obsessed with overplaying the bleedingly obvious. This is not what Ball has intended for his material. In fact, if you watch any of his screen efforts you can see that mostly his comedy comes out of very clever lines delivered deadpan - and there’s only one director involved with Ball Game who really understands that and that’s Christopher Stollery. In The M Word, Stollery trusts the material and allows the characters of woman (Lisa Griffiths) and man (Matthew Holmes) to shine, as they strategically discuss the ‘proposal’ on the table. Matthew Holmes has a particularly firm grasp of what’s required here and it was nice to hear the audience audibly relax enough to enjoy the really funny moments of this piece aware that they were in safe hands.
On the production side of things there’s an interesting revolving set (Alice Morgan) that adds style to the show and helps smooth transitions between the plays in an eye-catching way, while Spiros Hristias provides lighting with punch and panache. But none of this was enough to save the production for me and I was left feeling like I’d been tempted by a mouth-watering menu that failed to deliver on taste.
Darlinghurst Theatre Company, Sauna Productions and inc. studios present
by Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under)
Venue: Darlinghurst Theatre Company 19 Greenknowe Avenue Potts Point
Dates: Thursday 26 June - Saturday 19 July
Times: 8pm Tuesday to Saturday, 5pm Sundays
Tickets: Adult $30, Conc $25
Bookings: www.darlinghursttheatre.com or 02 8356 9987