Some people get a sports car or facelift in mid-life. Others get a life. Which one are you? Heartworm is a comedy-drama about the coulda-shoulda-wouldas of our lives, leaving a sense of hope amid the humour and heartache.
The squeamish title refers both to the protagonist’s day job and the ‘doubt, fear and panic’ she experiences in all aspects of her life. Metaphorically, heartworm also represents when everything looks fine on the outside, but inside is a parasite, feeding off you, until one day it consumes the very thing supporting it. Is this what happens when striving for success, to be what others want us to be?
Shirley Van Sanden is the writer and performer of this one woman play, taking the audience through several days in 40-something overachiever Ann Hill’s life. She is a hard-working partner in a WA veterinary practice, mother to a surly teenage daughter and the other half to a similarly upper middle class highly educated professional. But underneath the structured lifestyle of attending the gym, walking the dogs and dealing with work crises, Ann is awaiting test results about her health. Over the next hour and a bit we hear of her dream-filled childhood and lost-love adolescence – contrasting to the life she leads now of impending menopause and an unappreciative family. The question becomes, what will Ann do with her life?
Yeah yeah, so it’s a mid-life crisis tale, but it’s not about shallow, stereotypical boob jobs and convertibles. Ann is an endearing character, who despite her intellectual-speak, is human deep-down with a heart of gold.
Van Sanden kept the pace seamless between at least seven characters – with different accents at that. And don’t forget the realistic animal acting, each their own distinct personality.
Adding to the constant interest was the clever and original set design. There may seem only to be minimal on-stage set-up, but the lighting and sounds effects by Craig Williams enliven the space. Dogs barking, phones ringing, cats meowing; it all bubbles together to create the overwhelming stress of Ann’s life. Sound also helps to transition between the many scenes, through to the airport, the surgery, to a messy house and wistful jacaranda memories.
The projection art by Nancy Jones brought back Ann’s reminisces and dreams, as well as adding humour and foreboding at crucial times.
The direction of the piece by Van Sanden and Williams ensure that Ann’s emotions are expressed in furious gym routines through to despondent desk mopings across the stage. Similarly, the plotline’s pace runs from frantic to suspenseful and slips into calm during reflective scenes. Indeed the climax is especially confronting; the room was so quiet one could hear the doof doof from nightclubs down the road.
Balancing the darker moments are the comedic elements that come from teenage daughter interpretations and the chaos of the surgery’s menagerie.
Throughout the play are references to the Douglas Adams novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, perhaps as a metaphor. That being, what is everyone’s ‘42’ – the answer to life, the universe and everything? We don’t always need a galaxy to explore. We should start with ourselves first then feel unbounded if we are truly to experience life.
One-character plays are the soufflés of the theatre repertoire. The ingredients and treatment must be just right, or it else it’ll all fall in a heap. Despite the unappetising title, Heartworm is a delicious combination of thoughtful scriptwriting and professional, empowering performance, leaving your spirit risen.
Blue Moose presents
by Shirley Van Sanden
Directed by Shirley Van Sanden and Craig Williams
Venue: The Blue Room Theatre | 53 James Street, Northbridge WA
Dates: 8 November to 26 November 2011
Tickets: Full $25 | Conc. $20