September 2007

The Arrival

The Arrival, Shaun Tan (via Matilda)


Boston Marriage by David Mamet, directed by Wayne Pearn. Designed by Paul King, lighting by Stelios Karagiannis, sound design by Chris Milne. With Corinne Davies, Helen Hopkins and Eleanor Wilson. Hoy Polloy @ the Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre, Brunswick, until October 6. Bookings: 9016 3873.

One of the things that troubles me as a relatively naïve theatre-goer is telling the difference between the play (text) and how the production uses the material. Or, to cut to the quick, distinguishing the difference between an indifferent play and a solid production. Discussion of play and production seems to be at the heart of reviews of Hoy Polloy’s current production of David Mamet’s play, Boston Marriage. Is it an amicable production of a crude play, or a good play that goes over the head of the actors, or a play and production that deserves our rapturous applause? Matt pointed out that the distinction between text and performance seems a phenomenon of the theatre. In film, unless you are watching the work of high-profile screenwriter such as Charlie Kaufman, or a book adaptation, and even still, it will be considered the director’s film. However, due to re-staging (a film will only be re-made once, twice if it’s a franchise) of a play it will always be considered a Williamson or Hare or Mamet play.



The Melbourne Underground Film Festival programme is now online. It is strange to think that only last year I was privileged enough to be at Matt’s “poorly-attended session of [my own] films”. This year Matt has curated two sessions: the films of Evan Mather, and those of David Lowery. I like both filmmakers’ work and will be at both sessions. You should come. It will be a diverse crowd of very attractive people. All the more so, ’cause you will be there.

Matt writes:

For all their differences, the films of Evan Mather and David Lowery are, in some respects, very similar. Specifically, they are the films of artists who are similarly concerned with the intricacies of place, memory, nostalgia, imagination, and the physical processes of filmmaking itself. Mather and Lowery are filmmakers who, like children with scissors and glue, ‘hand-make’ their films; who use their films to remember their pasts, or to rewrite them; and who imbue place—be it Baton Rouge in Mather’s Scenic Highway, Las Vegas in Fansom the Lizard, or Texas in Lowery’s work more generally—with a loaded emotional resonance tied, inexorably, to childhood, adolescence, and to events further back in the collective memory of our culture. The will be the first time either filmmakers’ work has screened in Australia.



The Nature of the Short Story, Eric Rosenfield, Wet Asphalt:

Come to think of it, I find it ironic that the essay’s author dismisses early short stories with a comparison to pop songs, when I think pop (and rock) songs offer a pretty good analogy for what a short story should be like. A great song is generally about one thing—one situation, one feeling—which it introduces, then gradually builds to a climax over (usually in a final chorus or bridge), and then fades out. It doesn’t need to be complicated and it doesn’t need to be clever; some of the greatest songs use no more than three chords and are simple and sincere. It doesn’t need to have conflict—many a great song are just elaborate love letters. (Though conflict doesn’t hurt any.) However, it cannot be boring, and that is the true problem with a lot of contemporary short fiction. Nothing’s worse than a pop song that puts you to sleep.

Today, my friend, Matt Clayfield, turns 22. So I thought if I thought hard enough I would be able to get him a really good present, with low mileage and driver side window that went down so that you could order food at the take-away drive-thru. Alas, Matt has invited me to the most expensive restaurant in town for his birthday, so he can forget any ideas like that.

One of the things I often forget to do is tell people I like them. Hey you, yes you, I like you. Now, like me back.  So, seen as we have been friends for a while, and I don’t have to worry about people accusing me of being a stalker, I thought I would share some of the things I like about you. Matt Clayfield.


Shadow Passion 2.

Recently, I saw Anthony Crowley’s new play, Shadow Passion, at Chapel off Chapel. It is a clash of two disparate, yet contemporary Australian stories: Catherine and Robert Harrow share a life of unsatisfying privilege, troubled by keeping Catherine’s mother alive when she is ready to die, and struggling to maintain the passion to bring a baby into the world when they aborted their first. Ali Hadji is an Iraqi refugee who develops a friendship with Catherine’s mother, Magaret. His chances of a permanent visa depend on Robert’s role within the Immigration Department.

It would be remiss of me, considering the previous post, not to note that Shadow Passion brings the issue of immigration to what otherwise might have been a common domestic drama. However, I do not want to write as if this is an issue-based play. That would undermine Crowley’s subtle writing and direction, and the performances given. But the tension of the play derives from the compassion, or lack thereof, of these characters, and difference between moral obligation and choice. It is easy to have moral certitude when the victim is without a face, a history, a common humanity. Far more difficult when you have to make a decision to help the victim who sits at your dinner table. That said, Ali is not without prejudices of his own, but is only ever equally understood by the biting obervation and tenderness of Magaret.

The play is interspersed with surreal vignettes: Catherine’s tap-dances out her naivety upon finding out she’s pregnant, while Robert performs some sado-masochistic ritual with a meat-cleaver. But by far the most pertinent is the interplay between Ali and the puppet that represents his son.

For its stylistic flourishes it is still the final scenes, heavy with moral consequence, staged in a downlit apartment and hospital room, that give the play its immediacy. If the play were handled less successfully moments such as these might fall face first into political and emotional bathos. Thankfully, it does not.

At Chapel off Chapel until 22nd of September.

For more reasons to see this show, go read The Rest is Just Commentary and Esoteric Rabbit.

Australia’s very own Devil’s Island, Arnold Zable:

LAST Saturday at least 50 Sri Lankan asylum seekers on Nauru began a hunger strike. By the fifth day of the strike, seven had collapsed and required admission to hospital. Refugee advocates are deeply concerned by the potential damage they are doing to their minds and bodies. Yet it is not difficult to understand, and be profoundly disturbed by, the conditions that have prompted such drastic actions.

The hunger strikers say they’ve had enough of waiting for a decision to be made on their future. The statements they have painted on their placards are sadly familiar. They mirror the pleas of many asylum seekers detained on Nauru in recent years. “We are just living corpses,” reads one. “We are just wasting our time, energy, and youth instead of building our life,” says another. “Dear Australians, please help us,” implores a third. The detainees are pleading with the Howard Government to set a timetable for their claims to be processed.