Saturday, May 5, 2012

Theatre: The Maj Monologues final

Directed by Michael McCall
Performed by Peter Holland, James Helm, Julia Moody, Stephanie Power, Marko Jovanovic and Ian Toyne
Downstairs at the Maj
2 – 5 May, 2012

The Maj Monologues is a writing competition first and foremost, but it’s also an entertainment, and, on the strength of the packed first night of its final, a very popular one.
The competitor’s task was to write a dramatic monologue of around ten minutes’ duration, and prizes included one adjudicated by a panel of theatre professionals and a people’s choice award voted on by audience members at the final’s four nights.
Picking the winners, though, was for them and you to do, and I think both they and you got it pretty well right. What I could judge, though, was the evening as a piece of theatre, and, on that count, everyone came out on top.
Very briefly, then, these were the finalists.
Night School by Phil Jeng Kane: somewhat in the style of Ron Blair’s ’70s masterpiece The Christian Brother, the exhortations of a teacher (Peter Holland) to his Australian History adult education class.
Gods on Tape by Michael Collins (winner of the encouragement award): a man (James Helm) ruminates about his failed relationship and the death of his father in tightly drawn sequences, especially in the remembered conversations between father and son.
God, Francis of Assisi and Plaster of Paris by Alison Craven (winner of the People's Choice award): a funny, powerful and unsettling story of loss and determination with Julia Moody as a middle-aged woman remembering the circumstances of her veterinarian parents’ deaths.
Carmen Giuliani by Lis Hoffmann and Leanne Curran: a naïve forty-something woman (Stephanie Power) nervously prepares for a sexual encounter at a corporate retreat.
Wonk by Chelsea Spagnolo (winner of the Judge's Choice award); a Sunday session at the pub suddenly turns from idle lechery to near tragedy for a facile young man (Marko Jovanovic) and the object of his attentions.
Salt Water by John Freeman: in almost Biblical language reminiscent of Leonard Cohen’s prose work, a traveling man (Ian Toyne) adrift in an abstract landscape confronts melancholia and loss of memory.
The writers had every reason to be happy with the presentation of their work. Director Michael McCall curated the collection skillfully, both in the placement of the pieces and the performances he has drawn from his actors. McCall was wise, I think, to run three particularly strong and entertaining character pieces through the core of the evening, and Moody, Power and Jovanovic gave captivating performances that ensure the evening’s energy was maintained. Holland’s wise, grumpy teacher was an ideal introduction to the evening, and, while Toyne’s lost man inhabits the night’s most problematic piece, he brought it to its conclusion with enigmatic power.
It’s great to see new writing on the stage in Perth, and there’s no doubt all these writers – some young, some less so – will have more to give us in future. For the time being though, the Maj Monologues stood on its own merits as a rewarding theatre entertainment.

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian.       

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