To Dad With Love

A Tribute to a Beloved Father

Tag: James Deeth

Theatre review: The Woman In His Mind

Dear Dad

The Woman In His Mind finds herself in the confines of a space that is confused, angry and passionate. The bed in the motel room is unkempt and a pair of woman’s shoes lay furiously apart; a condom hangs limply from a drawer, its torn Durex wrapping lies wasted on the floor.

Christine Lambrianidis’ new play explores the crisis of cultural identity that second-generation Greek migrants suffer in their birth country of Australia. It examines their struggles to reconcile conflicts between traditions and modernity, East and West, old and new, cultural heritage and liberal values.

John and Katharina are a divorced couple, both of whom are of Greek heritage. He is a brick-and-mortar developer who values hard work and familial relationships while she is a published writer who has chosen to pursue her dreams and her individuality at the expense of wealth and her community’s approval. They meet for a one-night assignation in a shabby motel room in an act that defies native customs and scandalises ethnic character.

As audacious as they are original, these imaginings by the talented playwright turn out to be an astonishing masterstroke. By setting the duo up in an unlikely arrangement, she unshackles them from traditional constraints that grip married couples and installs them instead on a platform where absurdities can be exposed and excoriated.

It would have been easy to render the scenes sordid — even vile — but, to his credit, Mark Pritchard directs his material with subtlety and taste: John’s zipping up of his fly, for example, marks the decisive end of a sexual romp just as Katharina’s shedding of her nurse’s wig takes us from suggestions of lewd acts in bedroom role-playing back to grinding reality.

With taut and uncompromising lines, the play teeters perilously close to character assassination. Here, the Greek man is portrayed as arrogant and old-fashioned, one who customarily views the woman as needy of support and inferior in any society.

Despite being inordinately possessive of the woman who becomes his wife, he oddly deprives her of his sexual affection. And in denying her any form of physical admiration, the Greek husband sees the wife as little more than a well-mannered cook and housekeeper, a problem-solver — even one akin to his own mother.

Lambrianidis’ provocative play is exquisitely delivered by the riveting performance of James Deeth and Kate Gregory. Deeth’s John captures both the machismo of his father’s son and the vulnerability of the contemporary Greek-Australian confounded by the dilemma of cultural contradictions. Gregory’s Katharina is equally fine. With dignity and confidence, she scoffs at what she sees as John’s hypocrisy and hopelessness in dealing with situations and confronting reality.

Admittedly, some references do seem somewhat contrived and Lambrianidis’ lack of enthusiasm for narrative plot makes it feel half digested. Nevertheless, it is a heartbreaking portrait in which two people who clearly still love and care for each other are forced apart by divergent, if opposing, cultural drafts.

Brendan O’Connell’s excellent production is effectively lit by Kris Chainey and the intriguing set is cleverly designed by Chloe Greaves whose confused, angry and passionate space is perhaps emblematic of the Greek-Australian man as it too does The Woman In His Mind.


Theatre review: Tell them that it rained too hard

Dear Dad

That promiscuity is fashionable and inspiring is as much a myth as the title of the play is a lie. Tell them that it rained too hard is a daring and honest examination of our society’s attitudes towards carnal indiscrimination and sexual modesty. Despite offering up a platform for both ideals to be heard and empathised — if not more partial to the former than the latter — the production ends with a patently salutary message.

In a brisk outline, Tell them that it rained too hard resembles one of those Sex and the City serials that openly discusses issues around sexual liberation and social ideals — those that seem somewhat jaded and pedestrian now. But Tom Pitts, the thoughtful playwright and exquisite composer known for his talent in combining music and drama to devastatingly sublime effect, brings the play alive with utterly recognisable characters and haunting tunes.

Directed with becoming delicacy by Celeste Cody, one of the theatre company’s artistic directors, who last year collaborated with Pitts in Christina: A Story With Music and Ad Absurdum to critical acclaim, the play also benefits immeasurably from performance of limpid truth by a highly talented cast.

Kaitlyn Clare plays a sensuous young woman, Helen, who revels in the frisson of new sexual encounters. She believes every man possesses a mystical magic that dissipates the moment fornication is done and excitement exploited. She recoils from the idea of monogamy for no one “really wants to travel on the same road again and again”.

So, when Elizabeth, her best friend, played by Vivienne Garnett, prepares to settle down, Helen is privately ambivalent, deeply convinced that Elizabeth will come to rue her choice. Seeing herself as a rousing influence, leading with chutzpah to live out people’s most visceral desires, Helen recollects Elizabeth’s eyes brimming with gratitude for taking her where she would never have ventured.

The play’s abstruse title refers to a phrase used by Helen’s mother in narrating a story surrounding the father Helen never knew. “Tell them that it rained too hard,” was what he said to her mother, exhorting her to call the authorities, before being swept away by the country floods — Helen is repeatedly told. Until now, she has never thought to question the veracity of the tale.

The production is delightfully peppered with delicious metaphors. Mother’s artful stacking, then un-stacking, of inverted milk crates into one straight line on the ground suggests that her own past paves the way back to none other than the main street, from where she urges Helen to avoid. When Elizabeth’s fiance, Mark, attributes their tardiness to the “flashing amber lights” that really want to turn to green but cannot, he is unwittingly spelling out Elizabeth’s restrained desires for a former flame.

The most profound metaphor, perhaps, comes right at the outset in Helen’s soliloquy about the colourful harlot parade. It is not hard to imagine what Michael, Elizabeth’s brother — femme fatale’s latest victim– whispered into Helen’s ear when he finally coaxed her into bed again, under the unforgiving gaze of judging voyeurs.

While Pitts’ writing is brutal — flirting perilously close with misogyny — Cody and Stephanie Spiers’ stylish and tasteful direction (and stunning costumes) combines with Ian Tsaoussi’s eloquent lighting and Pitts’ own atmospheric music to create a mood that plies the murky hinterland between eroticism and elegance, between the sordid and the sensible.

Nevertheless, the production is affecting mostly because the cast does not push to make it so. Clare’s protagonist Helen is absolutely compelling, transitioning from defiance and seductiveness to morning-after disgust, disappointment then dejection — at times astounding with a simultaneous melange.

Garnett’s Elizabeth is just as fine: her outstanding depiction of a woman’s susceptibility to temptation is an embarrassing reality many fervently deny but secretly acknowledge. Her turn-around on watching her brother suffer at the receiving end of such decadence is entirely convincing.

Special mention must be made of Maree Cody who plays Mother. Her effortless portrayal of a parent desperately hoping against history repeating itself while somewhat resigned in the knowledge of its inexorable prospect speaks to her consummate skill as a reliable stage veteran.

Enormous talent is also displayed by Sam Lund as fiance Mark, Nick Bendall as brother Michael, James Deeth as old-flame Alan and Christian Connolly as Man — his nonchalance as beguiling to the audience as it is to the protagonist.

The acts of heart-quickening flirtation, hilarious parody and lewd antics played out by the three pairs of voyeurs and drunks, too, are remarkable. One cannot help but be captivated by Grace Travaglia’s low-cast eyes that are totally inebriated in the moment as she feels Alex Roe’s fingers creeping up her arm.

Perhaps, as the play’s ending alludes, the only way to sustain someone still clinging to the rejected and fading notion of promiscuity is an enduring promise of the ever-tantalising, the never knowing and never possessing — never mind that it comes with a promise their future will be as much a disgrace as the lie: “Tell them that it rained too hard.”

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