Left - Joanne Davis and Peter Finlay
Foxholes of the Mind, by novelist and journalist Bernard Clancy, deals with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on Vietnam vets. It is engaging, well researched and well plotted. It works on many levels; on the plus side are well-thought out characters (Frank is satisfyingly complex) with believable motives, a good solid structure with welcome changes of pace preventing it becoming a talk-fest, flashbacks and a not-too-neat ending. The set design creates an effective metaphor of the oppression of memories of service in Vietnam in the mind of the characters, almost intruding into their space. The cast does an admirable job.
Foxholes of the Mind occurs mostly in a group therapy setting, popular with writers because they can dive into deep issues immediately and directly. The problem for stage-worthiness is that there is way too much sitting and talking. Conflict here is confined to that between protagonist Frank (Peter Finlay) and his long-suffering wife, Trish, whereas some argy bargy within the far too cosy and confluent group might raise the interest stakes. There is a problem with the female characters, Trish (Joanne Davis) is an out and out victim, struggling to get out of a 30 year marriage which has never provided for her emotionally sexually or in terms of family life, the nurse with a heart of gold, Sheila (Maureen Hartley) has little to do or say and is present as a token, as also are the ‘invisible’ male characters played effectively but unnecessarily by Adrian Mulraney. The least believable character is Mark the psychotherapist (Sean Kavanagh), nauseatingly sincere, sympathetic and one-dimensional, and the actual therapeutic process is implausible.
The real problem with this play, though, is that it suffers from such earnestness on the part of the writer to make the concerns of the play well-understood, that the personalities, although generally well-differentiated, can become mouthpieces for its concerns, - they all suffer from the same need to tell all rather than have their deepest issues forced out of them by the action of the play or the conflict between them. Everyone is too articulate, self-aware and ready to spill the beans in long-winded pronouncements rather than engaging in naturalistic dialogue. The dialogue is often speechified, unnatural and unvarying, delivered in even wordy, predictable chunks. People seldom use each other’s names in conversation, for example; the script dearly needs a thorough edit, as it is repetitive and overlong.
There are some fine moments of acting although the pivotal chilling moment where Frank abuses Trish was the least convincing moment of the play, as though the actors were reluctant to shock. The play invites a lot of sympathy for Frank, to the point where his horrific treatment of Trish is, in some ways, almost sidestepped. Foxholes of the Mind, however, does deal with an important legacy of Australia’s foreign policy and some contentious points are made very well. It is a fine effort by all concerned; its authenticity is above reproach and it has much potential.
La Mama presents
Foxholes of the Mind
by Bernard Clancy
Directed by Wolf Heidecker
Venue: La Mama | 349 Drummond Street Carlton
Dates: 10 - 21 November, 2010
Times: 10 - 21 Nov 8pm; 6.30pm Wed, Sun
Tickets: $25 / $15 Concession
Bookings: 03 9347 6142