Charles Mercovich

Marco is sick of his family pressuring him to meet a nice person and settle down, 
so he hires a straight male model to play his boyfriend. Landscape Dreaming is a fresh original Australian farce filled with sharp, witty dialogue, physical theatre, evocative music, visual sensations and outrageous costumes. Paul Andrew speaks to writer and producer Charles Mercovich about his latest play featuring during Midsumma 2012.

Landscape DreamingTell me something of your artistic biography so far ?
My first play Somebody Dug Up Daddy was put on at the University of Melbourne. It was heavily autobiographical, but I think all first works need to be.

In 1996, I was lucky enough to meet actors from the CPA (Adelaide) at a playwright’s conference and spent three weeks as a writer in residence to work on Dionysus Incarcerated. The play was about an overly-exuberant grandparent who lectures the apathetic occupants of a share house about their need to seize the day, and they end up punishing him.

In 1999, I collaborated with a composer, to deliver the book and lyrics for Devil's Snuffbox - A Musical. In 2001, I won the St Martins Young Playwright Competition with the short play, Blood Is Thicker Than Ink – a black comedy about writer’s block. That same year, I wrote, produced and acted in Doppelganger at Theatreworks.

Then I stopped writing plays and travelled. My love for theatre stuck with me, even throughout career changes. When I began teaching Drama at a secondary school, its insistent door knocking became impossible to ignore. I began working with a director of physical theatre, and my understanding of the modern stage broadened considerably. I set myself the goal of prioritising writing and producing theatre in 2011, and this was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

In 2011, Beneath The Floorboards was produced as part of the 2011 VCAA Drama Playlist and I wrote and acted in The Long Divide (for the 2011 Melbourne Fringe Festival). I am currently working on a new play to be shared with New York and Melbourne audiences later this year.

Is there a particular early memory you have where theatre or a stage experience absolutely enchanted you?
I played the Elephant Child in Grade One and dropped the oranges into the audience. It was my first understanding of the power of breaking down the fourth wall. As I got older, I kept acting but usually missed out on the parts I wanted. So I started writing works I could star in, and this drive for revenge and fame actually forced me to learn the theories about crafting plays.

A career highlight so far?
One of my most rewarding writing experiences occurred last year, when I was crafting a two-hander. We had done some of the devising on the floor, and the director decided it was time I developed the script, so we could begin rehearsals. With four weeks until the script was due, I had reams of plans but couldn’t get into the zone. Procrastination and distraction kept getting in the way, and we were on in six weeks.

So, I drove out of town and locked myself away at my sister’s beach house for a week. During the day, I was at the computer or doing creative development on the back beach. By night, I lit fires and worked to a tight schedule. As I was also acting in the show, I was on a strict diet and exercise regime to play a military-fit character. So, for the whole week, I embraced the whole world of the show. The director preferred that my character carry the weight of the text, so I developed stories, monologues, and poetry. By the end of the week, I had a raw two-hander that suited what we had found on the floor. It was an extremely fulfilling creative experience.

I recently tried the same thing with a show I am developing for New York. But just locking yourself away is no recipe for success. I ended up lying on the beach, cooking cakes, and came up with only a few pages that have been used for creative development. Unfortunately, the creative spirit will not always do your bidding in a time that suits. What I’ve learnt is you have to keep working regardless.

Landscape Dreaming is an “Australian farce”. Tell me something about farce as a genre, its tropes, its tendency to high exaggeration?
This is my first attempt at a full-on comedy. I’m very nervous. With drama, you work with pathos, inspire thought, and share meaning. With comedy, you do the same, but the Sword of Damocles is ready to drop, if people walk into a theatre expecting to laugh.

From what I’ve learnt from experience, reading, watching, and devouring books like The Cheeky Monkey by Tim Ferguson, farce is fast-paced with complications, mistaken identities and falsehoods. I love the idea of raising the stakes, and building chaos over the course of the play.

Landscape Dreaming presents a man who wants what he can’t have and gets it, only to lose almost everything he has in the process. It was fun working with characters that lie to themselves and to others about what they truly need. 

What makes this work "Australian"?
Landscape Dreaming is centred on Marco, a well-to-do, 30-something man who has almost everything he wants: the house, the car, the job, the friends; everything except the perfect boyfriend. We live in a country where we are privileged to have the opportunity to live a modestly successful life, and this is the starting point with the protagonist.

His best friend, Trent is similarly privileged. Trent is the more jaded of the two, and gets more of the sharper observations of the world around him. In writing these two main characters, I deliberately tried to avoid gay stereotypes. The best way to do that was to base them on people I know.

Tell me about the writer's joy you experienced while writing this work?
When I started writing Landscape Dreaming, I wanted to address the idea of gay marriage.

Personally, I am not overly-passionate about the issue. I think there are more issues of importance, such as the civil rights of asylum seekers. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand the homophobic vacuum-heads who have no other cause but to prevent the right to love. But I am actually quite apathetic and cynical about the institution of marriage.

I wondered, “Is it about love? Does love even exist? Isn’t friendship more important?”

Farce’s you adore?
One of the greatest comedies I’ve seen in a while is Arrested Development where the protagonist is surrounded by absurdly comical characters. Michael Hurwitz showed how it’s possible to have the central character flawed and supremely comic in his narcissism and self-delusion. This definitely inspired me to write comedy.

Describe your play in seven words?
Landscape Dreaming is a comedy about wanting what you can’t have (11 words).

It’s a part of the 2012 Midsumma month of cultural festivities, why so?
The play fits in with Midsumma Festival because it has been developed by both gay and straight artists and addresses issues of sex, sexuality, relationships and the importance of friendship.

Something funny that happened during rehearsals?
I tried to stay away from rehearsals as much as possible. It was a liberating and necessary step in the process. As producer, I have remained a part of Landscape Dreaming since the get-go, but it was much more fun to work away from the floor, and trust the show would develop as it needed to, without the writer needing to be there.

I occasionally got phone calls about certain lines, and had to bite my lip when some had been changed, and characters were interpreted in different ways. On the final day of rehearsals, I got to see the full show. It is always rewarding to see how something you wrote has evolved.

I am definitely interested in continuing to develop plays that incorporate layers of physicality and look forward to working with more artists in the future.

LANDSCAPE DREAMING, plays at La Mama Courthouse from Jan 18 – Feb 5, as part of midsumma 2012. Further details»

Image credit:
Top right – Gavin Williams

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