Left – Paul Capsis
Angela's Kitchen is an autobiographical play with comedy-drama snapshots of the actor's past and present and the life of his beloved maternal grandmother Angela.
You'd like Angela's Kitchen if you ruined your mascara (or male equivalent) watching the film Steel Magnolias-about the bonding between family beyond meaningless blood-ties. Those who wince at the thought of chaotic family life and emotional heart-stringing should go instead to stand-up comedy acts. The solo performer in the piece Paul Capsis plays a different role than his more renowned stage and film appearances. If you're expecting lots of drag, singing and dancing glitz, and comedy cabaret, then this performance is like Arnold Schwarzenegger doing Kindergarten Cop; certainly entertaining but not of the usual genre.
Capsis co-wrote Angela's Kitchen with Julian Meyrick and Hilary Bell to create a rounding off of memories instead of real narrative in the sense of 'catalyst crisis climax'. The engagement comes from endearing moments that the audience can relate to, envy, or ponder.
The play takes place as a speckled timeline, jumping between adult Paul's own visit to the island of Malta, to Angela's childhood, through to her arriving in Australia and the years she shared with Paul as a child, teen and adult. The ambience and delineation of each era is beautifully presented with slideshows of family photos, props and some subtle costume changes.
Interspersed with the personal journeys were the fascinating historical titbits about the bombing of Malta in WW2 and the acceptance (or not!) of European immigrants to Australia after WW2. The audience gets a true sense of the hardship Angela faced, and why it was that she became a practical, independent, frugal, and loving mother and grandmother.
The highlights of the play were often the comedic moments, such as the chaos of the childhood dinner table and Aussie Bingo nights – Capsis showed his vocal range and strength in playing multiple characters by voice alone in immediate succession. Capsis absolutely captured the essence of his surly but sweet hearted grandfather, his ockerised aunty and mother, and himself as a gleeful child.
The more reflective scenes were when adult Paul visits Malta to see the places his grandmother described, more than half her life ago. His wistful observations were supported by the matching lighting slideshow projections by Steve Toulmin and audio effects by Alister Spence, including the recorded soulful Maltese folk singing.
Capsis frequently expressed in Maltese, though most of it he immediately translated with similar dramatic emphasis. The folk songs remained an enigma, but their meaning was easily transmitted by Capsis' body language and the lighting.
Verity Hampson's lighting design is intricate: complex and yet perfect as a hand-tatted doyley. The casting shadows intensified the introspective moments, and the warm glow of overhead lamps uplifted the mood.
The undercurrent metaphor of Capsis coming full-circle was supported by the ingenious set design by Louise McCarthy with nooks and crannies everywhere – everything efficiently used just as 'make do' Angela would have done.
The first three quarters of the play had a constant tempo, with Julian Meyrick's direction making excellent use of the small stage and props, setting up Capsis in natural posing to create a sense of 'moment'. However, I felt that the pace slackened towards the end, mulling too long on the family tree aspect.
Is Angela's Kitchen a tear jerker? For some, yes. Overall the play is a heart-warming way to spend an evening – experiencing a sense not so much about a grandmother, but about an admirable friend.
Griffin Theatre Company presents
by Paul Capsis and Julian Meyrick
Director Julian Meyrick
Venue: The Street Theatre | 15 Childers Street, Acton ACT
Dates: 12 - 23 June 2012
Tickets: $35 – $32
Bookings: 02 6247 1223