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Angus Grant, Alice McConnell, Catherine Moore, Jodie Harris + Rita Kalnejais, Dolores in the Department Store Angus Grant, Alice McConnell, Catherine Moore, Jodie Harris + Rita Kalnejais, Dolores in the Department Store
photo Heidrun Löhr
She is one woman bruised into four. Dolores is a work about a woman so disturbed in childhood she seems to have leapt to the side of herself and sent 4 emissaries thereafter to negotiate the world. This is a prismatic work where not only Dolores splinters, but every image that has accompanied her since childhood seems to as well. Does her nightmare revolve around a ditch, or a swamp? Was there a bridge she crossed every day, or not? Whose bloated body was that hauled from the mud–a lover of her father's, on which he committed necrophilia? Or was the body hers, the corpse a metaphor for her own death and her psyche's traumatic dismantling?

The 2 produced versions of Dolores (the first being October last year) effect an unnerving of our perceptions, of the way we might measure our place in the world. A child approaches a bridge; a hand approaches a psychiatrist's door; the psychiatrist's eyes reach towards her knees. He watches "the pad of her finger trace the stockinged skin of her knee", the distance to her mysteries. Such is his care-taking. Dolores is a violated entity: the 4 of them can hold together the parts. Her body speaks herstory, fabricates it too, is both truth-teller and liar. Who can be an adequate mirror to this prism? Her "mentors" look-after, look-into her with selfish desire. Does her body ever know itself as its own?

And yet there is a unifying consciousness, a singular Dolores who holds herself at the apex of the pyramid. The four D's cradle, implicate, cajole, antagonise, yet ultimately support each other in an overarching dialogue, both uncovering and ultimately discarding memory, helping themselves survive.

Indeed, she does better than her stuttering husband Frank, tragically inarticulate, so virile and volatile; a jumpy phallus, his only constancy the marauding of her body, his lording of their home. He is undone by her miscreant spending, her pleading "not tonight" is enough to rive his mountain. His lava almost erupts just speaking to his worried child. He first appears folded behind sliding doors in a tiny dumb-waiter space crouching his nerves. His wife is a snowflake breaking, his head starts to cave; his only respite is watching television, climbing women and poles.

The shopwalker, too, is a tragic figure, despite the pseudo-glamour of his role. What is a would-be Trojan warrior without the myth? It is this man, slippery across the department floor, promising a kind of immortality of outline. He doubles as a TV producer in a weird but psychologically-right ploy, as the department store is elided into a casting studio and Dolores' ironing board takes a starring role.

What I find in version 2 is an undoing more Brechtian and brash, the former production's psychic vortex replaced with an initially more ironic commentary and detachment; and yet in both versions we end up, moist-eyed, accompanying the Doloreses down a forest path, elms, willows (is it Ophelia's re-emerging?), their synchronised bodies wavering like water. The backs of their hands vein like leaves, they speak as part of the pattern of all things.

Dolores' survival is exquisite, powerful, but ambiguous: in what way is that soft merging a real survival in a world full of Frank and Trojan's manquees? And what is redeemed of the relationship with her daughter, who has spent much of her young life combing department stores looking for her mother? There are no answers; ambiguity remains strong.

Both times, I wept on seeing Dolores, for it captures how raw and humiliating it is to have fallen apart, and know oneself as fallen, and yet somewhere, within a truth that cannot quite reveal itself, one's soul knows the reason. I am astonished at the merging of emotional verisimilitude and stylish structure in the piece. I remain amazed that it has been written.


Richard Murphet, Dolores in the Department Store, directors Leisa Shelton & Richard Murphet, Company 2001, performers Alice McConnell, Catherine Moore, Rita Kalnejais, Jodie Harris, Angus Grant, Luisa Hastings Edge, Simon Aylott, Amanda Falson, Peter Cook, Patrick Brammall, Aaron Halstead & Luke Mullins, VCA School of Drama, Grant Street Theatre, Melbourne, April 6-11

RealTime issue #43 June-July 2001 pg. web

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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