Left – Elizabeth McColl and Emily Goddard. Cover – Emily Goddard. Photos – Sophie Dewhirst and Glenn van Oosterom
In a post-modern world driven largely by instant gratification it isn’t often that love stories resonate. Littered with cheap clichés and histrionic characters its quite rare to come across a simple tale, a story of unrequited love and staged with all the simplicity that such a story deserves.
Jane Miller’s Australian play set in a regional country town aspires to be just that, but unfortunately it narrowly misses the mark. True Love Travels On a Gravel Road, taken from one of Elvis' more obscure songs, is the story of Jake, a young man dismissed as the town ‘tard’ who is committed to making the woman of his dreams happy. Maggie has always wanted to go to Graceland and Jake is determined to make this dream a reality. With numerous obstacles in his path, not least his lack of money, Maggie’s straight-shooting mother, Glenda and the fact that Maggie is married, Jake must make some hard decisions. But there’s more than one romance afoot. Jake’s boss, Sam has his own problems about security and commitment and fumbles his way through a relationship while Glenda isn’t shy of sharing the ramifications of being a single mother. Add a somewhat psychotic dog owner with a penchant for providing arms and you have a very mixed bag of characters.
However, Miller has the remarkable ability to capture the language of her characters from the prattle of a bitter mother to the anxiety of a unfaithful husband. Maggie, played by Emily Goddard, is the epitome of the wistful maiden trapped in a pragmatic marriage, and while her vocal expression has the tendency to fall into a monotone, the passion and vulnerability exhibited by her lover Jake, (Glenn van Oosterom) does create some special chemistry on stage. As the jaded mother Elizabeth McColl settles into her role as the play progresses and gives one of the most memorable performances, perhaps more endearing in her sympathy towards Jake near the end than for all her rancorous comments. The relationship between Sam (Chris Broadstock) and Angie (Marnie Gibson) is somewhat extraneous to the actual narrative of Jake wanting to take Maggie to Graceland but is within itself a perceptive portrayal of relationships over time. As the slightly maniacal supplier of essential ‘merchandise’ David Kambouris offers a strong performance, at his best when paired up with McColl.
With references to Elvis’ films and music strewn throughout the text the play teeters on the verge of nostalgia saving itself only because of its biting humour and nuanced character portrayals. Beng Oh’s direction is solid and with a simple and evocative set design the beauty of Miller’s words is brought to the fore.
A satisfying production with a strong cast and some very good writing, True Love Travels On a Gravel Road is definitely a journey worth taking.
15 Minutes from Anywhere presents
True Love Travels on a Gravel Road
by Jane Miller
Directed by Beng Oh
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 15 May – 2 June 2013
Tickets: $37 – $30
Bookings: fortyfivedownstairs.com | 03 9662 9966