All My Sleep And Waking | SoulartSharon Davis. Photos - Bronwyn Pringle

Childhood memories come and go. They are malleable and varying. Maria remembers her father as a magician, who produced her glasses from the bottom of the sea. Her older sister Anne remembers their father as a drunk; she would step over him as he lay on the floor. In Mary Rachel Brown’s All My Sleep And Waking, the way forward is through forgiveness but the sisters are, as Maria says,“burying two different fathers”, and Anne’s memories, those of pain, cannot be laid to rest. 

Not once in this Soulart production, directed by Kelly Somes, is their dying father seen or heard. He lies in another room, behind a black curtain, and yet his presence and the mark he leaves behind is unmistakeable. Maria (Sharon Davis) is emotionally exhausted. For the past four years she has lived with and nursed their cancer-ridden father. She has learnt the patterns of his breathing and how to interpret his squeeze of her hand. She has done so without help from her emotionally detached sister Anne (Andrea Close) and her older but cripplingly nervous brother Peter (Andrew Gray). Unlike Maria they struggle to deal with the effect of their father’s past actions. Anne cannot find the compassion necessary to nurse her father as he dies of an illness he brought upon himself and Peter is plagued on a daily basis by the self-doubt instilled in him by his father.

Paulina Avellaneda-Ramirez’s set is a reminder that while the audience and Maria’s family have dropped by the house for a visit, Maria, consumed by her father’s illness, very rarely leaves. There are food scraps and cigarettes littering the tiny living space and when Anne visits the house in her father’s final days, it is this, rather than her father, which she diligently tends. Clear plastic tapes are strung between and around the furniture, at times physically separating the characters. They are a curious choice considering the predominantly naturalistic set and are at times distracting. But as Maria takes them down, they demonstrate her efforts to release herself from her prison as well as remove the emotional barriers that exist between her and her siblings.

Caught in the middle of the family’s sparring is Josh, Anne’s adolescent son, played by Patrick Wingrove. He has a rebellious streak and strongly formed opinions and is beginning to learn that his family have more than a few things in common with the fish he watches in their glass tank. They have not chosen each other but are forced to coexist. Those that are different will inevitably clash and in the meantime they are swimming round and round in circles. Brown’s references to fish and aquariums are numerous and often less than subtle but this allows her to emphasise a crucial notion in this play; humans are not fish, humans cannot simply forget.

Davis, as Maria, gives a measured performance and it is largely due to the believability of her tears and outbursts that we feel for this family and their dying father, despite his undeniable history. Maria’s story has enough weight to make a one-woman play and in many ways Davis delivers this. Close, as Anne, is not given as much to work with. While she comes across as every bit as stilted as her character, there are few scenes which allow Close to reveal any other side to her personality nor a great range of emotion.

Gray has a difficult task in portraying the stuttering Peter, but he settles into the role as he is given room to reveal Peter’s endearing nature. In comparison to Peter and his childlike babble, Josh’s turn of phrase at times presents as well beyond his years but Wingrove handles this with skill and balances it beautifully with his other moments of adolescent outbursts. Together, Peter and Josh deliver not only some of the most humorous, but also some of the most touching moments in this play.

The funeral service marks the end of the daily heartache for Maria as her father’s carer. It is also the day that Peter conquers one of his greatest fears and realises his own capabilities. All My Sleep And Waking touches on a notion that is somewhat overlooked or disguised in many explorations of the death of a loved one. Despite their heartache and loss, the death of their father physically and emotionally releases them. Anne however seems to have endured too much pain and while she is the first to walk away from the service, there is the sense that despite her best efforts, her father and her memories of him will follow her wherever she goes.

a Soulart Production
All My Sleep And Waking
by Mary Rachel Brown

Venue: La Mama, 205 Faraday Street, Carlton
Dates: July 9 – July 20, 2008
Times: Wednesdays at 8.30pm, Thursdays to Saturdays at 6.00pm, Sundays at 4.30pm
Tickets: $25 (full) / $12 (concession)
Duration: 60 minutes approx.
Bookings: 9347 6142

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