Friday, September 14, 2007

PLAY: "The Australia Project II: Week 1"

Theater should do more than entertain, it should also inform. After all, every monologue is laced with ideas, every character with opinion, and every play with unique perspective. In the strong first week of The Australia Project II: Australia Strikes Back!, four playwrights give us their view of America, a full two hour sample of various styles and wonderful ideas ranging from the pregnant metapauses of Pinter's Explanation to the exuberantly sprayed tangents of The Port. There's New York through the dystopically glazed eyes of avalanche-dwelling Caroline (Goodbye New York, Goodbye Heart), and then there's 1892's empire-gripped Australia, seen through the eyes of a loyal lighthouse keeper (The Melancholy Keeper of the Deep, Deep Green). The night goes easily from reverent to fervent, and despite the different tones, the plays do well to complement one another, covering up the occasional shortcoming with general freshness.

Pinter's Explanation, by Ross Mueller, is the somber opening act, a piece pregnant with Pinter's pauses, though far less snappishly playful. The lengthiest of the one-acts on display, it features Michael Szeles and Mary Cross as former lovers, now reunited nineteen months later to work on adapting an Australian play. Unfortunately, while Man has an ulterior motive (he wants to rekindle a relationship he soured with the repressed jealousy of her success), Woman has only monetary reasons for being there, and the emotional core of the play is one-sided and ultimately artificial. The good moments stem from the discussion of theater itself, something that artistic director Mark Armstrong knows how to steer. That conversation is certainly more exciting than Man's recitation of the monologue-within-a-play, and of Woman's angry rant at Man's selfish nature.

Far better is the hit of the night, Anthony Crowley's The Melancholy Keeper of the Deep, Deep Green. Bridgette Dunlap, who often directs adaptations of magical stories for the Ateh Group is well-suited for this tale of an American, Richard (Kevin O'Donnell), who travels to the past to convince Patrick (the excellent Andrew Lawton) to leave the lighthouse dark for an evening. Aside from the undertones of the costs of determinedly "right" American interference, the story focuses on the twinned labor and love of a honest man, a story built with rich, rusted language like "He emptied his lungs through his mouth," that brings to mind Clay MacLeod Chapman's volume of smoke.

Then there's Lally Katz's Goodbye New York, Goodbye Heart, a peppy parable about what life means, when you strip away the false and fancy lights of the city and look for the love underneath. Here, New York is already dead, and it lives on only as a VR haven for suicides. MySpace New York, as it is called, is on the verge of crashing, and we follow Caroline (Nicolle Bradford) as she falls for Thornbury (Ryan King) and his sad Father (Joe Menino), who fears that he cannot save his stubborn son a second time. Katz leaves a lot to the imagination, as does Kara-Lynn Vaeni's direction, but the modern conversations are eerily prescient, and we can almost see the city flickering out.

Week 1 ends with Wesley Enoch's The Port, a one-man show starring Emma Jackson as a frantic traveler who opines directly to the audience on a slew of reasons why she hates (but doesn't really hate) Americans as she packs her port (Australian for suitcase) to travel somewhere else. This cram-packed rant is not only an impressive performance, but the most open of the pieces, shouting out pearls of wisdom about the importance of getting lost in the world (Pinter's Explanation also emphasizes this).

I end this review by emphasizing the same thing: it's necessary that we lose ourselves from time to time in thoughts that are not our own. Without that, we risk eventually becoming lost to the world, and stagnant within ourselves. Week 1 continues through Sunday, and Weeks 2 and 3 run 9/20-9/23 and 9/27-9/30 at chashama.

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