Theatre review: Porn.Cake

by todadwithlove

Dear Dad

The Porn of the title is as scant as its Cake is surfeit. Porn.Cake, by talented playwright Vanessa Bates, is an honest examination of the demography that straddles two phases of life — its incline and impending decline — but perhaps, more unusually, either side of the technology explosion.

The evening premiere was presaged by director Pamela Rabe, herself a veteran actress in the film and theatre industry, opening the production’s inaugural performance and apologising for any false step — you are the guinea pigs, she said. This came to befuddle the audience in later discerning what was false and what was not.

What were clearly not false, though, were the cakes — yes, not one but all. Here, Christina Smith has spared no expense in throwing a cake extravaganza. Three towering window cabinets loom at the back of the stage, each with multiple shelves teeming with the lavish confectionary. A smattering of consonants and vowels line the top of the wall — variously lighting up to form words as the play progresses, almost like a word game on a live television show. These, together with one ordinary table and four ordinary chairs, make for an ambiguous setting.

Two Generation X couples sit down for cake — privately, then together. Persistent invasions of instant short messaging provoke sharp annoyance, alongside searing insecurity, in Rabe’s iterative approach. Each character launches into a soliloquy at various points to unveil a wistful longing for the past, inner demons, regrets on opportunities lost and financial fantasy.

Heather Bolton’s Bella clings to her childhood encounter with a man-fairy on a sun-swept day in England. Christen O’Leary’s Annie is a perpetually angry naturopath who translates her self-disappointment into contempt for a younger employer. She is resolutely delusional — to save her self-esteem — and blames everyone for her own weakness. Luke Elliot’s Bill resists anyone who attempts to change his olive-intolerance as he reminisces a childhood sweetheart and childhood toys while Travis McMahon’s Ant yearns as much for lost excitement as sudden fortune.

Bates’ scalpel is sharp. She slices through the hardened facade to expose the visceral environment through taut lines. Quietly scorching, her writing uses a wry sense of humour to illuminate Generation X’s struggles against the inexorable march of time, the creeping signs of age and realisation that happiness may be something tucked in the past than waiting in the future. Unlike generations that have never known the pre-internet world, they are less adept with technology and more susceptible to a love-hate relationship with it .

Rabe’s directorial debut combines wit with comedy. Her physical vocabulary is ballsy, if delirious. The abrupt appearance of a backstage crew to clean up gobs of cascading cream and sponge is disarming while her artful kneading into the narrative of quirky antics that culminate in a scene of absurd repetitive movements is hypnotic.

However, her boldness fights with the text at times, by spelling out (literally) what is delicate and enigmatic in the writing. That theme words should be in your face is didactic, obliterating any chance for delicious nuances.

Porn.Cake is an intricately-layered play which ruminates on that segment of an urban society oppressed by the twin pressures of age and keeping up with rapidly evolving times. In their quest for meaning, they find nostalgia. As they seek human connection, they discover desolation. In the end, just as Porn is not for everyone, not everyone wants a slice of this baffling Cake.

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