Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Theatre: Bali (★★★★)

The Last Great Hunt
Written and performed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs
Subiaco Arts Centre
Until October 28
Chris Isaacs and Jeffrey Jay Fowler
The adventures of Corgan and Jimmy
Dinky-di tales of two true blue boys…

That mightn’t be exactly how the title song from Barry Humphries’ epochal ’70s satire “The Adventures of Barry McKenzie” went, but it’s appropriate enough for the continuing story of Perth’s BBSF and BBGF. And Now, like Bazza, the fag and the stag have that most satisfying of stamps of public approval – a sequel.
This time the boys are on Australians’ favourite holiday isle, but, of course, like 2015’s hit Fag/Stag, this is no mere romp in an exotic location.
Like its predecessor, Bali is a razor sharp, witheringly witty and technically brilliant take on contemporary Australia, its mores, expectations and hypocracies.
Chris Isaacs’ Corgan (the stag) and Jeffrey Jay Fowler’s Jimmy (the fag) are in Bali for Corgan’s mum’s sixtieth, and Corgan has picked up the tab for his skint friend.
As Polonius would warn you, that’s bound to be a risky proposition, and it gets even more so when Corgan’s GF won’t pick up when he calls her, and Jimmy has picked up a gaucho amigo who comes complete with a crush.
As things heat up around and between the boys, we learn a lot about both of them – and it’s far from fun and games.
It doesn’t pay to be too judgmental, though; if you don’t recognize parts of yourself in Corgan and Jimmy, perhaps you should take a long, hard look in the mirror they are holding up to us.
Isaacs and Fowler are fine writers and polished performers, and they smoothly, and hilariously, pull off the often-tricky feat of telling two versions of the same story simultaneously, like the Rashomon Effect on speed. The acrobatic dialogue, and the laughs, keep coming, even when their darker purpose is revealed.
On the strength of Bali, there’s no reason why, like Martin and Lewis or Hope and Crosby, Corbin and Jimmy, won’t pop up again.
When they do, I’d like to see Corbin given a little more smarts and awareness than he has in Bali; there’s a little gap growing between him and the vivacious Jimmy that could do with closing so he doesn’t become merely – forgive me for this – a straight guy.
But that’s a word of caution, not a criticism; indeed, there’s precious little to criticize in this stellar outing by two of the brightest stars of Perth’s stage.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Theatre: I Am My Own Wife (★★★★)

by Doug Wright
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Director and sound designer Joe Lui
Set and costume designer Cherish Marrington
Lighting designer Chris Donnelly
Voice and Dialect coach Luzita Fereday
Performed by Brendan Hanson
STC Studio
Until October 29
(pic: Daniel J Grant)

Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for drama; it’s perhaps a little more surprising that it won the Tony Award for best play the same year.
I say that because we associate the Pulitzer primarily with journalism (although its drama prize is an august award voted on by distinguished theatre critics), and Wright’s work feels as much a long-form character piece, in, say, The New Yorker or on This American Life, adapted for the stage, as a fully formed play.
That’s not to say that its subject, the German transgender personality Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, isn’t a fascinating character, or that her story lacks drama – the mere survival of a public transvestite under both the Nazi and East German regimes could hardly be without that. It’s more that its dramatic form is more akin to reporting a life rather taking us inside it.
This is partly because Wright’s narrative vehicle is the story of his research into, and extensive interviews with, Mahlsdorf shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Wright’s various tribulations – his grant funding running out, his disconcerting discovery of Mahlsdorf’s connections to the Stasi – are incidental to the story and add little to it.
But left to her own devices – and those of Brendan Hanson, who plays Mahlsdorf, Wright and perhaps a dozen other characters in a tour de force performance, and the director Joe Lui, whose conviction and command clicks into gear as soon as they get her alone – the show lifts instantly and to great heights.
Hanson is a natural fit for Charlotte; he has the charisma and subversive Kit Kat Klub glamour for her (I can’t see the Emcee in Cabaret on his resumé – some producer has missed out there) and this allows him to give a surprisingly understated performance with moments of quiet tenderness quite without the histrionics and flounces you might expect from Mahlsdorf and the terrifying world she navigates through. Hanson is capable of hugely entertaining extravagance – it’s a credit to him, and to Lui, that this performance is almost entirely devoid of it.
This restraint is echoed in Cherish Marington’s set of high vertical panels that loom over Mahlsdorf’s domestic collection, and the little gay nightclub she operated in the basement, like the searchlight pillars of the Lichtdom at the rallies in Nuremberg (though, happily, there is not a swastika or hammer and sickle to be seen). Chris Donnelly’s lighting design creates angular glimpses of figures in side streets and cells, bursting into garish colour to frame the talk show interrogation of Mahlsberg’s ambiguous past.
While I Am My Own Wife could be a more dramatic and gripping play than it is, its window into the queer demi-monde of totalitarian Mitteleuropa, and Brendan Hanson’s marvelous performance, makes it a considerable success and well worth your seeing.       

Monday, October 9, 2017

Cabaret: Chiquitita and Fernando (★★★½)

Adele Parkinson and Darren Mapes
Downstairs at the Maj
4 – 7 October
The cabaret season Downstairs at the Maj is a welcome, and underappreciated, respite from the serious stuff up on street level. While a fair bit of its programme can be formulaic, it has a habit of throwing up little gems, sometimes from unlikely places.
Adele Parkinson and Daren Mapes’s Chiquitita and Fernando is one of them.
It’s fairly obvious from the title what you’re in for: an hour and a bit of Abba and a few bits and pieces of Scandipop from Roxette and Ace of Base, among others.
What you mightn’t have expected is its tongue-in-cheek shenanigans and a wacky story laced with on-and-off stage mischiefs.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Proximity Festival

Curated by Kelli McCluskey and Sarah Rowbottam
Cathedral Square until November 5
Tyrone Robinson (pic: PAVLOVA)
I’m something of a Proximity veteran, having tramped around the Blue Room, PICA, the Fremantle Arts Centre, AGWA and, now, Cathedral Square since 2012 in search of the amusement and however big a slice of enlightenment you can get from a quarter hour or so in the hands, or at least the company, of a single performer.
That’s the idea of Proximity; an encounter of one performer with an audience of one, multiplied anything up to twelve (this year a more manageable nine) times, in one precinct.
It’s a challenge for performers, their curators, Kelli McCluskey and Sarah Rowbottam, the producer Megan Roberts and stage management, led by Donelle Gardiner. There’s no disputing it’s also a challenge for the audience.
That challenge for us isn’t logistical – the Proximity team know exactly what they’re doing and how to do it, and you’re shepherded from site to site with practiced skill and a small army of vollies.
It’s more about what you do when you get there. There are some pieces that require your proactive interaction with the artist, some where the artist leads and guides that interaction and some where you need only observe proceedings.
The trick is knowing what you need to do, if you need to do something, and the success of a piece often depends on how clearly that is communicated.