Thursday, 11 May 2017

A View From the Bridge, Canberra Rep

Arthur Miller's "View from the Bridge" is the only contemporary working-class drama of his major plays ("All My Sons" and "Death of A Salesman" are both closer to middle-class, "Crucible" isn't contemporary), and acts partially as a rebut to Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg's "On the Waterfront" - set in the same location, it argues that sometimes the legal system needs to be defied when it comes to things like immigration law in the face of genuine human need. It also presents a gripping home drama as the relationships within a Brooklyn home are stretched as two visitors expose fautlines.

In Chris Baldock's production, this is a story both about a family and a community and how the two interract. In the first act, the continuous prescence of a greek chorus of neighbourhood people seems almost intrusive on the domestic scenes inside the hosehold of Eddie Carbone. But it pays off greatly in the second act as Eddie's private transgressions face public consequences, as his community turns against him and as he seeks desperately to find his way back to reclaim his place in it. There's a cumulative power that pays off wonderfully by the end of this tense, tight piece.

Central, of course, to the tragedy is the Eddie Carbone. Knox Peden's making not only his Rep but also his Australian debut with this production, and it's a knockout performance, pugnacious, combative but with a longing soul at the middle of it that can't help but draw compassion even as it becomes increasingly obvious how wrong he's going. Karen Vickery is a 3 year Canberra veteran now (with, of course, a whole lot more behind her), and brings every inch of that skill to Beatrice, Eddie's wife and confidante, supportive but completely willing to call her husband on his bullshit when she knows he's wrong, powerless to stop him failing. Karina Hudson also makes her Canberra debut as the bubbly young Catherine, who is required to do a lot of growing up in a brief period of time as she finds love, meets betrayal and finds her confidence to stand up to Eddie. As the charming-but-possibly-mercenary Rudolpho, Alexander Clubb keeps you guessing as to his true motives - there's a surface charm and a sweet voice, but also that little bit of withholding that keeps things uncertain. Chris Zuber has a strong solid integrity that grows into brutal menace when he is betrayed.. David Bennett narrates in the one role I'm not entirely sure is utterly necessary - I've not seen a production where Alfieri's monologues feel integral to the play rather than imposed to underline themes that don't need underlining, and this isn't the one that changes my mind, but he's solid enough. Cameron Thomas and Benjamin Russell double both as Eddie's casual buddies and two menacing Immigration Officers, and present strong distinguishable characters in brief stagetime.

Baldock's set, realised by a team of 17 dedicated buillders, is impressive both in how it fills the stage (across the wide Rep stage but also through strong verticals) and how it allows tight focus on the small family drama while letting the bigger community elements come through. Helen Drum's costumes give a gritty period authenticity, Chris Ellyard's lighting design impresses both in giving focus to the different areas and to building the hellish intensity as the play winds to its inevitable conclusion. Jon Pearson's sound design gives a strong sense of place and mood.

This is intense, raw drama presented in top-notch condition. This is theatre that will draw you in and get the heart pumping. Go see it.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Avenue Q, Supa Productions, The Q.

This is a first para about my personal history with the show. So if you're looking to see if you should go watch this (spoiler: YES YOU SHOULD) or you're involved in the show and want to see if I've mentioned you by name (spoiler: PROBABLY IF YOU WERE ON STAGE OR INVOLVED IN DIRECTING. DESIGNING LIGHTING CHOREOGRAPHY MUSICAL DIRECTING OR SOUND, PROBABLY NOT OTHERWISE), skip onwards. Okay, for the rest of you - this is, weirdly enough, the fourth time I've seen this show. It's the first show I ever saw on Broadway (one of my facebook profiles is of me with the Bad Idea Bears - photo entirely does not capture me having original cast member Jennifer Barnhardt behind me working both bears), and it's probably the only show where I haven't at least been front-of-housing where I've ended up seeing it three times in a year (I saw the Australian professional tour twice, once in Melbourne and once in Canberra despite having slight issues with a few production decisions and performances, particularly in handling of puppets, largely due to Canberra being discounted and wanting to support top-level professional tours of shows that I like - I like amateur theatre a lot but I also like people being paid for their efforts cause you can't feed yourself on applause).

Anyway, point being, yes I know this show and like it lots. It's a refreshingly young-feeling show (the writing team were all making their debut, with Bobby Lopez starting his EGOT-claiming ways with his 2004 Tony for the score), taking the "Sesame Street for College Graduates" with both humour and a fair bit of sincerity - it's not just a puppet-filled gagfest, it's also about feeling lost in a big terrifying world (whether that world be New York City or anywhere else) of financial pressures, entangling relationships, and of course, casual racism.

And this production gets a young lively cast to go with it - some of them thirty-something theatre veterans, some making spectacular debuts. My very specific objection to the Australian professional run is that there is one golden commandment for this show - Thou Shalt Not Pull Focus From Thy Puppet (and there were a few too many cases where that took place in that production) - but this cast, despite being full of talents who in other circumstances absolutely should have focus, knows that we're here to see the puppets and gives them free rain. Nick Valois nails the gentle befuzzlement of Princeton, and Emma McCormack's Kate Monster gives us a rich range between sensitivity and rage. Dave Smith relishes the chance to have silly voices both as the gormlessly silly Nicky and as a distinctly deep-south Bad Idea Bear, and Joel Hutchings is distinctly stick-up-the-butt as the not-particularly-hiding-it-very-well-closeted-Republican Rod. Robert Stankov makes an utterly adorable debut as a gleeful Trekkie Monster, Josie Dunham brings every element of puppet-sex-appeal to Lucy T. Slut, Kate O'Sullivan brings wild energy to the other Bad Idea Bear, and Jo Burns is the best kind of Crabby Old Bitch as Mrs Thistletwat. As the token humans, Nina Wood is a delightfully dogmatic Christmas Eve, Riley Bell a loose and playful Brian (and in things I never knew I wanted to see on stage, Riley Bell Does Jazz Hands is now one of them), and Joanna Licuanan Francis has funk and attitude as Gary Coleman.

Jarrad West runs a tight production, keeping the show fresh and focussed. Elizabeth Alford's band is one of the strongest I've heard lately - there's not a bum note from the 6-member pit. Pierce Jackson's choreography has a delightful playful quality to it - there's nothing that looks particularly complex, but it's exactly the kind of thing the show needs - giving the cast movement that reflects the character of the show. Nick Valois and Chris Zuber's set is a nicely solid bit of building, looking lived in, run down, but also loose enough to let people get on-and-off relatively quickly.

Lighting is a little bit imprecise (there's a few too many moments when characters are not lit as they're supposed to be - particularly in the opening of the "Fantasies Come True" sequence). Sound is mostly pretty solid except for one misbehaving microphone at one point.

In short - yeah, this is a great production of a favourite show full of great local talent. So, yeah, you should book a ticket for this one.