THEA406 Directing Season: ON THE EDGE, Season Two
And What Remains
By Miria George, directed by Abby
Maori women have been given a choice: sterilization in exchange for their citizenship or exile. What began as a ‘liberal’ health scheme (semi-permanent sterilization for up to two years insuring children are only borne by economically stable families) has turned public conceit (it is, in fact, permanent), forcing Mary (played by Hine Parata-Walker) to leave our shores. Her partner Peter (Michael Hebenton) has come to the airport to find her. Along the way he meets a young lad embarking on his OE (Sepelini Mua’au), a cynic (Caryl Alyssa), and a rather audacious airport cleaner (Shreyasee Hadler).
My immediate reaction to this text was largely part incredulity, part confusion. Gaping flaws, from plot (this implausible manifestation of Maori victimization) to character (it is a brave employee who sits with airport patrons and casually participates in their conversation), appeared dauntingly impossible to overcome, unassisted by a glacially slow narrative.
Unfortunately the overall performance pandered to this stillness. The show opened with a palpably awkward pace and any subsequent attempt at arc or climax seemed contrived (Peter wants to convince Mary to stay in New Zealand and face sterilization). Mua’au’s endearing bashful youth, coupled with Hebenton’s bloke-ish Peter, had a couple of moments of very genuine joy, but this scattered energy never amounted to any emotive resolution. Any sympathy I may have felt for our protagonist and her plight was squandered through the collective’s cautious delivery of the dialogue and flaky pacing back and forth.
The stage featured two backless couches as terminal seats, a flight timetable and a terminal entrance, largely nondescript and contributed little to the action itself.
Naomi in the Living Room
By Christopher Durang, directed by Penny
Naomi, an eccentrically deranged middle aged woman who may or may not live alone, is receiving a visit from John, her son, and Johnna, his spouse. Decorated in cutlery and tinsel, Naomi comfortably inhabits environs that resemble, well, herself: rainbow-striped asymmetrical couch, jaunty window frame, hot pink bean bag, leaning bookcase and zany coloured floor boards. What begins as bat-shit crazy gets crazier, and pretty much stays crazy.
Jen Brasch as the title character was very much the madwoman – staccato screeches, rapid-fire delivery, erratic bodily dives, intense peering, abolition of personal space – whilst Martin Quicke and Alice Pearce as John and Johnna were appropriately sweet and display admiral tolerability. As much of the performance rides on Brasch, I would say the ball lies in her court when it comes to determining pace, and would recommend choosing a couple of moments to slow down; comical opportunities are dismissed due to the flurried impulse to keep everything moving (I would have really liked Pearce to exert her impression of mood swings – what a marvelous stimulus!).
This production is fine but like its predecessor it plays to the text instead of contributing to, or building from, it. The design and characterisation become double percussive, albeit very zany.
He Rea Aroha
By Miria George, directed by Dana
This musical love story take place in the rural coast of NZ and tells the tale of Kaia and Pascoe, a young Maori couple split by Kaia’s stint at a musical career in London. Well she’s back, and fate won’t leave the two of them alone. Ruth Smith and Tulima Nonu are cast as the lovers and a rather simple yet effective direction gives them the dual role of playing the other lead’s best mate (Maria and Rangi).
Over the course of the evening this was the audience favourite and one can see why. It is simple, clean, and delivers its story with humour and heart. Whilst the two rotating columns aren’t exactly ground-breaking, the arabesques achieved through backlit tree branches are surprisingly beautiful and I could have left it at that.
Both Smith and Nonu excel in giving their characters life, despite the gimmick of Nonu’s dancing as Kaia’s accomplice, Maria. Each character was lovingly depicted with clever comical timing and down to earth delivery. My only real qualm lies with the transitions between each role (lead to supporting), which generally seem clumsy and time consuming (walk away/turn around/walk back in). Smith is given the opportunity to display her vocal prowess and does well in the process.
Brief shout out to Mitchell Leaming who accompanies the text with acoustic guitar – his rendition of Milkshake received many a chortle.
Ambiguity surrounding the production’s conclusion can be forgiven, and its simplicity and clarity ultimately act in its favour.