Of The Causes of Wonderful Things | Too Close To The SunPhoto – Heidrun Lohr

The human condition can be spoken of and can be read about. But when you hear it, see it and if it unveils in front of you, haunting you, if it unsettles your being and if you begin to live within a dream narrative that has lost all boundaries – if all of this is achieved on stage then it can only be magic.

Talya Rubin writer and solo performer, Of The Causes of Wonderful Things, invited us in what could be best described as an intimate expedition with no stops along the way, only silent whispers that reached, with grace, to our every emotion. We were tormented when she was grieving and we were alarmed when she couldn't breathe.

Rubin performed from an exceptional script, a story about five children who have disappeared from a small town in the American South. The mechanics of how things unfold in a town when children go missing were played out by Rubin. All the characters lived in her and somehow they revealed themselves to us with clarity and too much honesty.

There were the children who spoke of their running away, a crazed aunt who was shattered by life, a detective who was programmed to a life of emotionless solitude; a peculiar Japanese shop keeper who seemed at times strong and wise but at other times, ruthless and self centred. There were young people conceding to sexual desires and there was, from all the characters, a longing for home.

In her narration, Rubin moved around the stage, gliding to different props: ones that seemed to have always been there. She tampered with a light projector that displayed the sadness of trees and silhouettes of children disappearing into bodies of water. A stage – well it was more like a landscape of items – lamps, puppets, coffee mugs, telephones, chairs and hand bags.

The children seemed to have disappeared into a rabbit's burrow and they continuously questioned their time there. It was almost Alice in Wonderland but with slightly more darkness and with vivid contemplation: a lost nostalgia. Rubin's performance, reminded me of Kim Stanley in the 1964 British film, 'Séance on a wet afternoon': mysterious, but daringly disturbed.

Rubin was quiet and delicate in her transcendence into the different characters. When she would change from being the detective to the children and then back to the aunt again, lights would turn on and off and shine brighter and then expose a frustration, even more. The lighting by Richard Vabre was almost the pulsating soul of this retelling of human misery. The lights would dip in and over, causing shadows across our minds and would increase the mystery of what was going on.

If I could describe the taste of this play I would have to use the colours of cracked caramel and smudged silver. The dramaturgy by Campion Decent, was Brechtian in that it had a function that set out to destroy the dramatic sequence: moments where diversions would occur that would separate the actor from a narrator. Rubin would be a master of ceremonies at a town hall one minute and then step outside of the play and criticize it, even ask the audience questions about its validity.

The tragedy of the story became our story, and the fears of this cryptic night at the theatre became our very fears. The sound design by Hayley Forward, echoed and scratched at the grief of loss and of sombre loneliness, with its striking timing and density. 

Through careful ventriloquism, a donkey and a French man were also added to the list of characters. Donkeys are usually very forgiving and have gentle eyes, but here they were represented as a voice and even the collective consciousness of irritation, confusion and anguish.

There were children lost in the woods, adults in excessive darkness and a world that was manipulated with rejection, death and ghosts.

The characters were many but perhaps they were just one.

Stella Adler in an interview once screamed out that an actor must choose between life and the theatre. And if they chose the theatre, then they must be murdered every night in the service of the play and to the public and the characters. Here was a performer living each character: dedicated to not pretend but to harrowingly reveal to an audience, just what it would be like to disappear and to be scared and to be miserable.

I can go on about the performance, but I'll just leave it as a plot; that once it was laid out and once we were defeated by the history of this world, then nothing could stop this from being a master class in acting. A visual and sound carriage; one that took us back in time and left us to sink in our own condition.


Too Close To The Sun presents
Of The Causes of Wonderful Things
Written, devised and performed by Talya Rubin

Co-devised and directed by Nick James

Venue: Arts House, Meat Market, 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne
Dates: Thursday 11 August – Saturday 13 August, 2011
Times: Thu – Fri 7.30pm, Sat 4pm & 7.30pm
Tickets: Full $30 / Conc $25
Bookings: artshouse.com.au | 03 9322 3713