Happily Ever After | La MamaLeft - Paul David-Goddard and Marnie Gibson. Cover (l-r) - Marnie Gibson, H. Clare Callow, Paul David-Goddard and Mike Frencham. Photos - Samara Clifford

Take four actors, a pound of realism with a dash of fairytale (or is it the other way around?), and one very small space. The result? A slightly odd, often amusing, but not confusing performance.

Happily Ever After follows the intersecting lives of a couple who’re a couple because, well, it seems like the best thing to be; it’s Destiny, right? Together, forever, we guess. Ben is adamant their child is destined to be born; Lizzie just wants to make Ben happy, and supposes her own happiness will fit alongside. The loss of Chloe’s lover has trapped her in the tower of misery and foolish hope, which happens to be a rental property that Dave, the larger than life real estate agent, wants Ben to get her out of, pronto.

Every time you walk into La Mama, you have forgotten how small it really is, and half the fun of the show is seeing the current construction of the space. The minimalistic set neither added nor detracted from the performance, allowing for intent character focus. From a metre away we gaze at the mourning face, the pained face, the frustrated face, with a perpetual tension between the actors and the watchers. H. Clare Callow focuses her energy over our gaze to the lights glaring from above; her world is her own, yet so close to ours. She works with her lengthy monologues seriously, with a feeling of heaviness which almost works for the character, but ends up feeling too driven. Could a person in emotional agony really maintain such constant intensity? The character plateaus in tortured energy, projecting so much emotion that we are distanced from empathy, rather than drawn into her black hole of grief.

The highlight of the show is Ben, a failure at fathering, working, husbandry – life. Paul David-Goddard releases the wall between himself and his audience, appearing comfortable with our presence, and his is the only his character who shows strong emotional development. We watch him lose grip on his shield of self-deprecating irony, no longer defending his sense of failure. While we empathise with him, we are stunted towards the other emotionally revealing characters, Chloe and Lizzie. Lizzie repels us with her overt intensity, her innate need for self justification, for getting things done. Played by Marnie Gibson, this character is also a little too sincere; she needs us to believe her, needs us to understand her inner-workings. The writer seeks to express startling ideas through her character, however the improbability of the tale’s twist clashes with the realism that is aimed for in the portrayal of their relationship. Lizzie follows her personality traits to the extreme, in order to do what she believes will make her husband happy.

Mike Frencham as Dave is the comic relief, the caricature of a ruthless real estate agent who likes to think he’s a mentor figure. The excessiveness of this character contrasts to the more natural style of acting used throughout (excepting the amusing sequences of pure fairytale), and finally we realise his purpose. Dave is the one who has got it worked out, he’s good at his job, got the kids and the wife and the Armani ties – and he’s the fakest of the lot.

The disparity between the personalities and acting styles of the actors and their characters creates a skewed undertone. While this feels strange, it is perhaps the production’s most admirable quality, as it encompasses characters ranging from the Rapunzel archetype to the bloke-next-door, who probably collects the paper in his slippers every Saturday morning.

This play, which is Jane Miller’s first full-length script, undertakes many ideas about our expectations of life, and our compromises when we sadly realise the limits. Themes are dealt with openly and the play at times teeters over the edge of clarity towards being too obvious. However some wonderful moments are achieved between Ben and Lizzie as we observe, up close, the dynamics of their excellently complex relationship. The air between them is taut, and Lizzie is a truly aggravating woman. We are so drawn into their argument that I feel the urge to walk out on her infuriating insistence, attracted to the more relaxed approach of Ben, ‘please, just give it time’, an absorption which is a fricative delight.

La Mama presents
Happily Ever After
by Jane Miller

Directed by Beng Oh

Venue: La Mama Theatre | 205 Faraday St, Carlton
Dates: June 23 – July 11, 2010
Bookings: www.lamama.com.au

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