Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Australia Project II: Australia Strikes Back (Week 2)

More of the same can be a good thing. Last week, The Production Company treated us to four off-kilter one acts, all of which were written by Australian playwrights who were thinking of America at the time. This week, it's another three one-acts, from the occasionally filth "967 Tuna" (Australian for excellent) to the beautiful "The Beekeeper" (no Australian translation needed there) and the hypnotically turbulent "Syphon."

The strongest piece is Emma Vuletic's "The Beekeeper," which sets the plight of colony collapse disorder (a k a, where are all the bees in America going?) against an Australian mother's inability to properly carry a child to term. Just as America imports Australian bees to keep their hives alive, Olivia (Chandler Vinton), turns to an American surrogate, Amber (Lethia Nall), to help her finally deliver a baby to term. (Such work is illegal Down Under.) Patrick McNulty plays with swift lighting cues to jump cuts between moments in time, but his best choice is to have distance communicated by silence rather than space. The two stand close to one other as they talk (or don't) by e-mail, and these quiet moments are tender and effective. Vuletic's writing is also very strong, jumping between the natural conversation, monologues about bees, and occasional legalese (to enforce the alienating "contract"). Vinton crackles through Olivia's necessary stiffness, adding a dash of loose desperation that connects us to her nerves, and Nall, rarely dropping her forced nonchalance, manages to convey a stream of raw emotions.

Brendan Cowell's "967 Tuna," on the other hand, is a play of surfaces. Jeremy (Nick Flint), a hyperchill Australian, rents a fishing boat from an uptight American, Captain Steve (Michael Gnat). As they converse (in a short and snappy patter that brings a mellower David Rabe to mind), the American becomes increasingly possessive and bellicose, while the carefree Australian's thick skin starts to become a frightened shell. The script is too playful--shallow ruminations from stereotypes--and while Flint and Gnat have great chemistry, Mark Armstrong can't steer the script into deeper waters. (Instead, he succeeds at dressing it up, evoking the cramped deck, the lapping nausea of waves, and an exciting high-speed drive.) Steve's wife, Dorothy (Sarah Eliana Bisman) is a deus ex machina, a physical metaphor for the daunting US(A), but her slow, unnatural dialogue clashes with the clipped tones of the play and ultimately serves as little more than a life raft off a meandering ship.

Tommy Murphy's "Syphon," on yet another hand, is buried so deep under the skin that it's never clear why your skin prickles. Perhaps its the deadened performances from Stephen Pilkington and Todd d'Amour, two druggies who come to live with the obsessive compulsive Isabelle (Erin Krakow), or perhaps it's the way time flies by--days, weeks, months, years--without bringing anything more than superficial changes. Murphy metes out the pace with staccato mundaneness ("Hey," "Yah," and "Dunno" are the oft-repeated "lyrics"), and director Shoshana Gold brings in the absurd properties with a slow, at first imperceptible, fade. But the conclusion fizzles where it should explode, not a bad trip so much as an impenetrable one. You want to go along for the ride, but you can't seem to follow homeless "monsters" or the senselessness of a student uprising.

As individual pieces, only "The Beekeeper" stands on its own, but as a collection, the Week 2 series serves to showcase not just Australian playwrights, each with their own unique styles and visions, but the directors and actors importing those views to America. And that's just filth. Your last chance to check out the four plays of Week 3 is 9/27-9/30 at chashama.

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