Ye gods! Classical mythology has had some horrible things done to it over time by way of re-interpretation but Deana VP, which has just finished a short run at Chapel Off Chapel for the Melbourne Italian Festival, is surely a new low.
Writer Pasquale Palmieri claims the play was inspired by the tale of Hercules' hunt for Diana's pet deer – that's the Ceryneian Hind, as featured in the third of the Twelve Tasks for the classicists out there – but in fact it's nothing to do with that or any other classic tale. Rather, it is a nonsensical story of Palmieri's own invention in which characters with classically inspired names – Ercole for Hercules, Deana for Diana, Aphro for Aphrodite etc – who are all living in an imaginary Australian Republic for no reason, spend most of their time talking tediously about sex. Instead of a deer, Ercole (Ange Arabatzis) is after Deana's virginity, which he has been sent on a covert military mission to take, under orders from President Jupiter. Which is all part of a nefarious scheme to sell natural gas to China, apparently.
Undoubtedly the intent was to be off-the-wall and controversial but the play manages only to be wearying and inane. Billed as a battle of the sexes, complete with a bell and a ring card girl to signify each new "round", it trots out one tired gender cliché after another. The female characters are in order: a) the sexually repressed career woman, b) her over-sexed best friend, c) her mother. Each is defined solely by their sexual relations with men. The virginal Deana (Lana Meltzer) – supposedly a businesswoman and politican when she's not having grating "girl-talk" with Aphro – is depicted as relentlessly childish and petulant until she gets laid, after which she grows up and quits her job (oh, that silly thing!) to work on "womanly" pursuits like looking after animals. As for the guys, one is manly and hellbent on sex, the other (Troy Larkin as Polo) is a sappy ineffectual poet who the program, if not the play itself, informs you is gay. Oh and Deana turns out to be Ercole's sister but by that point who's even paying attention?
The script is, apart from its odious sexual politics, completely inept, lacking any kind of dramatic tension and with dialogue so unlike actual human interaction that you feel sorry for the actors having to speak it. The woman playing Aphro (Claudia Greenstone) in particular deserves some kind of medal for sacrifice in the name of theatre for the truly awful lines she has to deliver.
It's hard to imagine anyone thinking any of it was a good idea, except for Palmieri himself who, bounding onto stage to ham for the audience both before and after the show, seems to genuinely think he has created something fantastic. In the program he describes himself as an "award-winning playwright" (he won a prize for an unproduced script one time) and audience are handed flyers for a novel he's had published through a vanity press. While his self-promotional chutzpah is certainly remarkable, Palmieri's inexperience as a writer is painfully evident from the start to finish of Deana VP.
Sitting through this one is a labour that Hercules himself would have baulked at.
The Melbourne Italian Festival presents
by Pasquale M Palmieri
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel | 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran VIC
Dates: Fri 1 June 8pm Sat 2 June 3pm and 8pm
Tickets: $30 – $25
Bookings: 03 8290 7000