Monday, June 13, 2022

Theatre: Sit! (Or I’ll Make You Sit)

by Morgan Owen
Directed by Izzy McDonald

Set and costume designer James McMillan
Lighting designer Adelaide Harney

Composer and sound designer Keiran Gulvin

Performed by Alicia Osyka, Ebony McGuire, Ben Sutton and Morgan Owen

Blue Room Theatre
May 30 – June 4, 2022

Dogs and humans have been at it for somewhere between twenty and forty thousand years, and you might imagine it’s worked out okay, all in all.
I tell myself that the gooey eyed look our wonderdog Lachie gives me at 6:30am and 5:30pm every day is an expression of self-determined affection rather than his imposed hunger time-clock ringing in his head, or that his instantly alert reaction to the mere mention of the word “Yokine” is his freely expressed anticipation of a mutually-agreed morning walk.

It doesn’t occur to me that we were in fact keeping him prisoner, unilaterally decided when he’d eat, sleep, run, wee, wear a collar and lead or even bark.
But that’s what “attachment style” – a handle I had never encountered before – is about, and it’s the grist to the mill of Morgan Owen’s erudite, papercut black comedy Sit! (Or I’ll Make You Sit) at the Blue Room.

Blair (Owen) is breaking up with her live-in boyfriend Dom (Ben Sutton). She doesn’t mince words, and neither does she leave Dom any wriggle room.
Ainsley (Ebony McGuire) is a successful public prosecutor; out on a first date with a woman she met on-line. Their conversation revolves around worth, honesty, control. Ainsley doesn’t leave her date much wriggle room either.

These episodes are the bookends, two years apart, of Owen’s story, most of which takes place at and around a dinner party where Ainsley and Blair, now, and then, a couple, have Dom around, ostensibly so Ainsley can meet him, but, in fact for many other, deeper reasons. All of which are best left for the audience to discover.
Oh, there’s a dog as well. Chekhov (Alicia Osyka), obsessed with and fiercely protective of, Ainslie, snarlingly trying to ward off the threat posed by Blair and Dom.

Sure, there’s plenty here to unpick, deconstruct, position and ponder, but if that’s what you want, there are plenty of pop-psych articles and postgrad thesis you can refer to.
Don’t come to a play for them though. And certainly don’t come to this one. Owen’s achievement is in absorbing its meaning and purpose into the meat of the play without foregrounding it; she covers her tracks with comedy and dramatic intrigue (it’s remarkable that this is her first play). She claims in her notes that she’s ‘sweetened (the play) by laughter’, but that’s selling her success here short
Sit! stands on its own two feet as an entertainment; the comedy is sharp, generous and genuine, the plot twists have internal logic and momentum, and there’s a purposeful balance between reality and improbability.
Much credit goes to Izzy McDonald, who is an inspired choice as director. An accomplished playwright herself (Busboy, French Over), McDonald has a expert touch for both the play’s nuances and broad brushstrokes. She and Owen have their material completely under control, and they never miss a beat.

McGuire nails Ainslie, so that how we see her, and what she becomes, fit seamlessly, while Sutton gives Dom a great deal more than the hangdog, rather gormless character we first meet seems to promise.
The W.C. Fields zinger “never work with children and animals” might just as easily be “never work with Alicia Osyka playing animals”. Idiosyncratic and courageous, Osyka could make something of a pet rock; with a critter as charismatic and confronting as Chekhov she’s every kind of scream.

And Owen gives an expert characterization of Blair, zeroing in on her like a tracer bullet. I have no idea the amount of autobiographical detail, or self-reflection, there is in her performance, but you can believe in it absolutely.
As you can the whole production.

It’s a great shame the season was perforce so short; I hope Sit! will be picked up for a return season (perhaps as one of Black Swan’s series of remounted independent productions).
Sit! (or I’ll make You Sit) certainly deserves it.

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