This unusual evening of entertainment has become a fixture on the Perth arts calendar since its inception in 2006. Part of the interest it arouses is, of course, the unexpected. Unless you are a family member or a friend of one of the writers (and there were plenty of those in the opening night audience) then you still won’t know what the other seven monologues will be like.
As a reviewer this is a very hard call, because the contest itself is a writing competition. However, as an audience member it’s extremely difficult to view the writing dispassionately and separately from the actors performances. Here goes!
Gum Shoe Blues by Christopher Greenwood. A cleverly written, classic Raymond Chandler inspired piece about a washed up private detective who has a visit from a dangerously beautiful woman with an interesting proposition. Greenwood set the tone of this piece perfectly. The resigned ennui of the gumshoe, delivered immaculately by Brendan Hanson, was perfect and amusingly sprinkled with local references to the monologue competition and thence to a juicy pending case. Here the plot got a little convoluted and the “sting” sprung by the glamorous vixen on our hapless detective seemed too complicated for some audience members to follow.
Handyman by Kerry Bowden. A light, comic tale of love, infidelity and bloody revenge, occasioned by a sexually-charged encounter in a Bunning’s Hardware store. The witty monologue was awash with brand name hardware appliances and references which the audience lapped up. Actor Corinne Davis did well with this material although it was really in need of a good edit as it was too long to fully sustain attention.
Arbour Day by Maria Pappas. The inclusion of this entry by the judges perplexed me. As the first two pieces had ticked all the boxes of the theme Lechery and Treachery I struggled to find to find any lechery in this piece. There certainly was treachery in a child’s betrayal of an Aboriginal classmate whilst desperately trying to win the acceptance of the popular Grade Three girls’ clan. However there is no doubt Maria Pappas is an accomplished writer and mention must be made of the ingenious performance by Renee Hale.
Nut Job by Kris Bather. Actor Nick Candy bounced his way through this often hilarious work about a very dark subject; testicular cancer. The pace was relentless and the double entendres and witticisms were reminiscent of a Seinfeld episode. Even more so when our hero moves to New York. Bather developed the plot extremely well – there was pathos as well as black humour and a clever twist to the love interest angle in the story. A gentle warning to men in the audience was a subtle touch with which to finish.
Symmetry of the Dots by Damien Gavillet. This was a very powerful piece of theatre. The story of a 14 year old girl’s revenge on her mother’s feckless lover by seduction never flagged. Whitney Richards turned in a superb characterization weaving seamlessly through little girl coyness to savage bitchery. The plot was, when you think of it, predictable, but the skill of the writing held attention to the very conclusion.
One Wedding and a Betrayal by Susan and Patrick Cullen. Here the writers have very successfully created stream of consciousness dialogue by a post adolescent, disaffected younger brother. The occasion is the wedding of his despised sibling to a goddess after whom he has long-lusted. The character is JD and at this wedding he is JD the Pirate Disc Jockey. Trouble ensues over choice of music; disco v schmaltzy pop. This develops into an even more unpleasant scenario when the bride reveals her musical preferences have had serious consequences with reference to her unborn baby. Actor Charles Wu clearly relished the part and played it to the hilt with great comic delivery and physicality. Again the piece was just too long but it certainly addressed the theme of the evening.
Three Fifty Three by Siobhan Dow-Hall. This was based upon the reflections of an English tourist in Australia for the first time. Played by Caitlin Beresford-Ord with assurance, it was an enthusiastic, (lustful even) paean of praise to the natural beauty, glorious weather and generous hospitality of Australia and Australians.
By contrast, and to introduce the theme of treachery, the tourist visiting Canberra discovers the SIEVX project. SIEV is the naval term for suspected illegal entry vessel, and the installation artwork of 353 posts represent the number of those who died in 2001 when such a vessel sank en route to Australia. She is horrified at the inaction of Australia to rescue the desperate would-be immigrants and tries to reconcile their apparent callousness with the side of Australia she has come to love. This is a strongly written work, its impact only slightly lessened by its length.
To Catch A Bride by Tony Cassella. The evening finished on a lighter note with the story of Neville, played by James Helm. An ingenuous young man determined to find a love at any cost. After an unsuccessful foray at school and expensive disasters with RSVP he is “ready to become a hermit in the Gibson Desert.” Delivering crates of beer he passes a bridal shop where the voluptuous girl of his dreams is decked out in nuptial finery. Larking with her bridesmaids, she flirtatiously beckons him in to adjudicate her choice of veils. He is smitten. A yobbish driver blocked in by the delivery van becomes abusive and after threatening our man steals two crates of beer. Fool for love that he has become, he retaliates and ends up in hospital only to awake to the woman of his dreams. A happy ending ensues. This was a well-crafted and equally well delivered in a laconically amusing style.
I wish the playwrights would adhere to the 15 minute time limit set out in the competition rules. The over-runs combined with the very late start by the theatre management make for a long evening of sustained concentration.
Interestingly the playwrights had no knowledge of the actors chosen for their particular pieces prior to seeing the performances. They were all well-served and director Michael McCall deserves full credit for his admirable direction of all the works.
2011 MAJ MONOLOGUES COMPETITION
"Treachery & Lechery in the 21st Century"
Directed by Michael McCall
Venue: Downstairs at the Maj
Dates/Times: Tuesday 22 to Saturday 26 March 2011 @ 7.30pm
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing (08) 9484 1133 | www.bocsticketing.com.au | any BOCS outlet
The 3 prizes to be announced following the final performance on Saturday 26 March are as folows:
• Judges’ choice $3000.00
• Peoples’ Choice $1000.00
• Astrid Jackson Encouragement Award $500.00