Left - Eoin O'Connell and Jennifer Innes. Photo - Yolene Dabreteau
Generous is one of those productions you walk away from wanting to love but not quite managing to. There are some great moments in it, with some truly wonderful acting. But there are also whole sections that could easily be done away with. This comes down to troubles with the script (particularly for an Australian audience who care little and know less about Canadian politics), and troubles with direction.
Generous is a long play in Two Acts of seven scenes and spans 15 years. It loosely follows the lives of a bunch of crooked politicians, a judge and her grown-up daughter, a young law clerk who loves too much and a lascivious female tycoon with a secret.
The first scene of the first Act is the most problematic. A minority Canadian government has suffered a non-confidence vote and the PM and his cronies are soon embroiled in what seems to be a double homicide. This is the only scene where the actors play opposing genders to their own and it really doesn’t work, although young actress Lauren-Anne Kempster is a stand-out.
Things do pick up, though, and Michael Healey’s dialogue starts to sing with a clipped acerbic rhythm that, for the most part, picks you up and pulls you along. It has something of a Mamet-esque quality and only occasionally trips over itself in its desire to be witty.
The stand out scene of the play occurs in the first Act. Set in the home of 50-something judge Maria Terrano, after her one night stand with a 26 year old law clerk, this scene is one of the most enjoyable I’ve seen in the theatre for some time. The overriding reason for this is James Cook is an absolute knock-out as Alex, the verbose Gen-Y law clerk with a proclivity for telling women he loves them after about 5 minutes. Cook wraps his tongue around Healey’s effusive dialogue with consummate ease, his timing impeccable, his delivery an absolute delight. The scene shows what happens when two intelligent, needy people from different generations take on a role reversal, with very funny results. The slightly wet Alex, whose manic verbosity makes him not unlike Donkey in the Shrek movies, is the sort of character you can’t help but like and want to see come out okay in the end. Judge Terrano, well played by Brenda McKinty, observes: “You’ve nailed the logorrhea, now you just need the shiny suit.”
The intermission seemed oddly timed, coming in the middle of a scene, but the pacing of the second Act overall worked much better than the first, although the fight scene that starts Act Two needs more work to be convincing. I struggled with the lengthy scene changes that continued to reveal a set that always looked much the same. This was one of my main concerns in an otherwise tightly acted, enjoyable play with an interesting theme: the set lacked colour and any visual interest, which is a problem in a long play with several scenes with limited movement. A coloured backdrop along with furniture that can remain onstage and be moved easily would probably work better than the lackluster quasi-realistic set that didn’t add much to the story. As a whole the costumes worked well, although more discretion in the use of white powder on the hair to age the characters was needed.
Generous is the Australian premiere of Canadian playwright Michael Healey’s second full length play. Despite the issues I’ve mentioned, the play is an interesting one about generosity and what happens when someone is overwhelmed with a desire to help – regardless of whether the help is welcomed or even warranted. The writing does tend to stress this theme with a heavy hand at times, with lines like “When we deny the instincts to help we become hideous”, “It’s better to offer flawed help than turn our backs”, and “We pay dearly for the help we offer sometimes". Still, PMD Productions have done a sound job with this play. The cast all deliver great performances, Cook and Jennifer Innes (playing the hard-nosed Julia) the standouts. It will appeal to many and is an entertaining night of theatre.
PMD Productions presents
by Michael Healey
Directed by Paul Knox with Adele Rickerby
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel
Dates: 3 - 19 June 2010
Times: Wed – Sat 8pm, Sun 6pm
Matinee: 2pm Sat 12 June
Tickets: $30 Full, $25 Con and Grps 10+ (+ booking fee)
Bookings: 03 8290 7000 | www.chapeloffchapel.com.au