Adler's An Actor Prepares, conceived in 2001 as a mixed response to Australia's involvement in the Afghan invasion, seems to also represent a narrative which is disjointed and disruptive in its nature. Nela Trifkovic decided to adapt some of this script and add to it a subject of human musicality; poetry, movement and elements of experimental theatre.
As the subtitle suggests, 'Songs of love and grief' became the drawing board that placed this story of the parallel relationships between an actor and a suicide bomber into some sort of order. The mental, deadly and merciless preparations of a suicide bomber and an infusion with what the actor has to do to prepare for the stage, coincided.
The use of music, a piano and some great singing from David Howell and Trifkovic, did blur the boundaries between the audience and the story and were the high times in this show. The haunting screeches and slow accompanying movements were enjoyed but not necessarily understood. But that is okay.
The two performers were all in white and through the unfolding of this up and down physical show, tried to intimidate, agree and confront each other with sometimes an uncomfortable proximity. The 'actor' and simultaneously 'the bomber' were given visceral representation; a musician's bag and his precious little instrument, dismantled into weapons and into spectacular dance. The melodic contours that followed screamed out, literally, stories of war and realities of fear, resolutions and moments of serious defined madness.
The fact that this was quite a detailed script and the fact that we could only connect with it on such a complex layer through imagery and metaphor, meant for us a push and a hunt for meaning all the time. Body percussion and songs inherent to freedom, triumph and disaster filled the dark space. Themes distinctive to Mediterranean folk songs collapsed on the stage; at times thrilling but at moments confusing and optimistically surreal.
I did enjoy reading about this production and its many intentions, however I did feel that at times there was a clear gap between the performers and our understanding of what was happening. The polarities of the actor and the suicide bomber seemed somewhat uncertain at times and we were left fetching almost chasing after a core script. There was obviously a language barrier between the imaginings of the songs and our tangible abilities to grasp what we could. I can confess that as a performer myself, I sometimes lose that significant control when I sense, if only for a moment that what I am doing on stage is too foreign for my audience. I felt that at some stages in this performance, the practitioners also felt this disconnect of electricity when they switched from tenors to raw physical actors. The language was pleasant and resonated across the levels of the room, but the extended meaning seemed to have been placed elsewhere.
Having a screen at one end of the stage with a retelling of the dance and the still moments was relevant as a sort of refuge; where we could go when things felt misplaced.
Inevitably a musical composition to a dense script about gypsies and pirates, self abnegation, God, Art and destruction: can never be logically recorded.
It was epic theatre; an alienation effect with consistent suspense but no real illumination to create meaning. It was opposition to naturalistic acting that to a point, entertained and informed us about the sufferings of human beings who walked together and comforted one another; a late monologue brought us back to the room but perhaps too late.
You could also say that if the stage were to achieve that inevitable mirror effect, then we should have been weeping when they wept and laughing when they laughed. We might of, but not throughout.
An Actor Prepares
Directed by James Adler
Venue: Broken Mirror Studios, 2C Staley St, Brunswick
Dates/Times: Aug 13 @ 5pm, Aug 21 @ 8pm, Aug 27 @ 2pm, Aug 28 @ 5pm
Tickets: $20 / 12
Bookings: http://www.trybooking.com | 0415 503 139