Saturday, July 15, 2017

Theatre: The Eisteddfod

By Lally Katz
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler
Set and costume designer Tyler Hill
Lighting designer Lucy Birkenshaw
Sound designer Brett Smith
Until July 9

Lally Katz’s The Eisteddfod takes us down into a tale of sound and fury.
It’s a disturbing experience, though undoubtedly a gripping one. It left me feeling a little sullied, considerably impressed, but with many more questions than answers.
I’m sure (as sure as I can be) that it signifies something. What that is, though, remains frustratingly elusive.
The apparent synopsis is easy enough – Abalone (Brendan Ewing) is obsessed with the prospect of winning the local Eisteddfod (first prize, one-way flight to Moscow) and enlists the aid of his sister Gerture (Natalie Holmwood) to be Lady to his Macbeth.
She’s got issues of her own – an imaginary (perhaps) classroom she teaches, her real (perhaps) pornographically abusive partner/ex partner/imaginary partner, Ian, and, along with Abalone, the comical but nevertheless tragic death of their parents to cope with.
Neither is managing their challenges extra well, and neither is managing their relationship with each other all that brilliantly either.
Katz is a pyrotechnic writer, and she’s letting double-bungers and Catherine wheels off all over the place here. In the hands of director Jeffrey Jay Fowler, a rocket of a writer and actor himself, it’s a cracker night of a show.
Holmwood is just right as the repressed Gerture, flailing helplessly at life, and Ewing, louche and brittle as Abalone, rancid as Ian, is as magnetic as always.
Fowler keeps the action as tight as a wire, and creates surprises galore, even from the repetitive acts that obsessively punctuate the play, like Abalone’s sinuous, identical dismounts from the bunk bed that dominates Tyler Hill’s ratty, garage-sale set.
But here’s the rub (whoops, wrong play), and it’s one audiences face too frequently.
There’s unequal access to knowledge and understanding in this play and this production. No doubt Katz mulled over and fashioned her work over months, years perhaps. No doubt Fowler dug deep into its depths and, in company with his creative team (Hill, the talented sound designer Brett Smith and lighting designer Lucy Birkenshaw) and the cast parsed its every nuance and balanced its weights and measures over weeks and months. No doubt everyone associated with the endeavour clearly and minutely understands what they were presenting us with.
But, in its mere hour upon the stage, while they strut, we fret. When the play ends with a dark and ominous story of a girl climbing the monkey bars at the end of the cul-de-sac, we are lost in a mist of supposition. Was it Gerture? Is there now, or was there ever a Gerture, or an Ian? Is this just the lonely agony of Abalone (my best guess)?
I’m sorry, but it’s just not fair. We, naturally, expect that the people telling the tale know what’s going on; but we’re entitled, I think, to have at least an idiot’s chance of grasping it too.      

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