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Absurd pleasures

Jonathan Marshall

Tomas Ford, Shane Adamczak, Difficult Second Novel Tomas Ford, Shane Adamczak, Difficult Second Novel
photo Ashley DePrazier
Abductions was an ambitious mixed bill mounted by Perth’s Artrage, featuring 5 new playlets from emerging artists. The program was characterised by the usual highs and lows of mixed bills, and despite best efforts, the unforgiving concrete bunker design of the Bakery Theatre was not always equal to the technical demands. Dividing the venue into 6 with curtains led to some less than ideal speaker and lighting placement. Despite these rough edges, Abductions contained gems from artists who look likely to produce impressive work in the future.

Patti Pied, for example, was an assured monologue from writer/performer Vinyl M’shell. Beaming at the audience, she revelled in enunciating a mixture of dirty realist details of sexual escapades and drug taking, blasphemously seasoned with a rich Christian iconography. M’shell powered through the largely nonsensical tale of a grubby Goth chick reborn as the new, sexually alluring "chosen one" and sister to Christ. This spoken word performance was accompanied by an equally symbolically overloaded background video projection, giving the show something of a careening punk cabaret ambience. While this rich melange did not amount to much conceptually, the energy and poetic craft underlying the monologue promised great things for the future. Compared to the mad energy of Patti Pied, Xavier Mitchelides’ more coherent one man show, Loving the Alien, came across as simply fine stand-up comedy: a funny work within a well-established format (right down to Mitchelides’ Eddie Murphy impersonations).

The wild card of the season was writer/performer Tomás Ford’s improvised Difficult Second Novel. For this bizarre work, an audience member was chosen to act as ‘God’ for the night for a struggling writer and his wayward, cocaine-snorting muse. The audience member had to suggest a genre in which the artists might craft a story and adding various ‘pressures’, such as fear of losing readers. In addition to the madness of this conceit and the visible struggle of the actors to cope with its demands, much of the piece’s appeal lay in the incongruity of having these characters represent the classic artist and muse. The latter was weaselly, whining and generally not very inspiring, spending most of his time trying to escape his author, while Ford as the writer was a volatile mixture of brooding anger and down to earth, no nonsense logic. He behaved more like a truckie taking a break on the Birdsville Track than any idealised sensitive writer in his garret. Although the ‘novel’ produced on the night I attended was stupid in the extreme (an endless Western gunfight between Bob Dylan and David Bowie), the crass illogic of the piece and the way it endlessly threatened to collapse under its own conceits made for absorbing viewing.

The highlight of Abductions was Afterwards We’ll Go Away. This wonderful, comically existential production drew heavily on the aesthetics of David Lynch, with a greater emphasis on overt humour. It also featured some particularly striking surrealist stage images at the beginning and end of the performance. Ineffectual, love-struck detective Dennis Moon pined for retired jazz chanteuse Mary-Lou Bakerman as he tried to find out what happened to her departed pianist lover. Moon’s office became a field of combat for Francine Hopscotch, the delightfully shy and dorky secretary pining for Moon, who was replaced by Mary-Lou’s venomous, beehive hairdo afflicted sister. Meanwhile the strange couple of singer Baby Red Shoes and her subservient pianist took over from Mary-Lou and her partner at the local jazz club. The group devised script moved deftly between these multiple romantic entanglements and each character was given a space to propound his or her take on the world and the woes inherent in it.

The well balanced, 3 level day-glo and tulle set was rich in an ironic 1950s American aesthetic, with neon-like glowing blocks of coloured light. Afterwards We’ll Go Away embodied not only a sharp, controlled sense of staging and dramaturgy, but also a delightfully amusing sense of the absurd–while also serving as an excellent showcase for the cast. If these modest, clipped pleasures were not sufficient, the final image of Mary-Lou’s returned shock-haired pianist, his gigantic, hairy foam hands waving in front of Mary-Lou before she vengefully severed them from his wrists to release cascades of red cloth, was pure Tristan Tzara. This Dadaist moment provided a suitably melodramatic conclusion to this hot-house comedy of manners.

Artrage, Abductions, coordinator/curator Sam Fox; featuring: Loving the Alien, writer/performer Xavier Michelides, director Adam Mitchell; Patti Pied, writer/performer Vinyl M’shell; Afterwards We’ll Go Away, cast devised, director/designer Zoe Pepper; Difficult Second Novel, writer Tomás Ford, director Claire Boreham; Bakery Theatre, Perth, Feb 3-19

RealTime issue #66 April-May 2005 pg. 42

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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