Wally is a fridge salesman. We think he is one thing, a loud wisecracking ex-pat American, but soon it becomes apparent that there is more to him - he is an erudite eccentric, given life by the ebullient performance of Bill Ten Eyck. Ten Ayck’s acting is the best thing about this show - just as well since he holds the stage for most of the play. Sadly, he is not matched by the rest of the cast.
There are several problems with this piece. One is that there are gratuitous elements. The early appearance of the tradesman seems solely to let us know the play is set in Australia, a clunky device when this information could be imparted so much more economically in one of Wally’s numerous phone calls. Having so much narrative in the form of phone conversations makes for a thud, thudding rhythm to the first half.
The little bits of ‘elephant lore’, although appealing, do not add anything to our understanding of the story or the characters, nor does the inclusion of some footage of Charlie Chaplin. They comprise an exercise in whimsy. Nice, but why? In fact the sense at the end of the play was Nice but Why? It doesn’t hang together. The premise seems to be how two would-be artists compromise between ‘art and avarice,’ an over-simplification to begin with and perhaps therein lies the problem. Would it be better if the play just focused on story, didn’t try to be deep, and let the themes emerge if they may? More fun is the skullduggery and how Wally deals with it – here, and with the development of Wally's character, the playwright is clearly most engaged.
The character of Lucy is boring, and the character of her brother unnecessary. There is nothing new here about the conflict between the needs to pay the bills and also engage with one’s art practice – there are many interesting potentials for a story around a young actress’s individual struggle to survive, but Lucy comes across as an undeserving sook and her character’s lines are woefully predictable. She’s wooden; not a real individual. The scene between her and Wally is the least satisfying part of the play and there's nothing to justify a romantic attachment between them, thereby undermining the finale. I also wanted to know why Wally’s script just happened to be sitting on his kitchen table … we don’t see him engaged with it prior to the moment when Lucy asks to see it. We don’t get a sense of his need to be a writer and the news that Wally was actually a playwright isn’t foreshadowed by his often too-obvious imparting of historical tidbits; however interesting this information may be, it needs to spring more naturally from his conversations.
However, after the interval there are fun and gunshots and mayhem. The whole thing ramps up, the action takes a welcome and robust break from phone conversations and delivers some good surprises with nicely underplayed cops and villains. The audience is rooting for Wally, in the American sense of the word, and we want to see him succeed – this is where the playwright/director plays to his strengths.
As a whole An Elephant in the Room is entertaining and fun, and Wally is an adorable and believable creation. While the play overall needs dramaturgical attention, there is definite potential here.
Antipodean Theatre presents
An Elephant in the Room
by Robert Gough
Directed by Robert Gough
Venue: Theatre Works | 14 Acland Street, St Kilda
Dates: 8 - 25 Jul, 2010
Tickets: $25 / $20 Concession