Thursday, February 23, 2017

Theatre: Opus No. 7 (★★★★★)

Written and directed by Dmitry Krymov
Designed by Vera Martynova (Genealogy) and Maria Tregubova (Shastakovich)

ABC Studios
Until February 26

The brace of arresting, visually exciting one-act pieces from Moscow’s Dmitry Krymov Laboratory that make up Opus No. 7 take famous stories and re-imagine them in broad strokes of colour and movement.
For all their innovation and technical brilliance, they remain steeped in theatrical traditions from Eastern European clowning to Grand Guignol, along with the dark humour and deep sorrow of Russia, the Always and Endless.
The first story, Genealogy, is an enormous lamentation, the same old ceremony of Jewish life from “Abraham begat Isaac” to the coming of the Christ, the old ways and the old faces lost in the avalanche of the 20th Century, its holocaust and progroms. The actors hold x-rays of bones up to the light, and the faces of lost Russian Jewry project through them onto the walls; a troupe of musicians scat, but their song becomes a black hymn of death and loss. The policeman passing a window is SS; at the next he is NKVD.
In the second story, Shostakovich (Christina Pivneva, in the role originally created by ensemble member Anna Sinyakina, whose striking, ominous plaint opens the show), a gigantic babushka puppet, at once Mother Russia and Uncle Joe, cradles the tiny, bespectacled composer in its dangerous, capricious arms.
Shostakovich’s fellow artists disappear or are condemned in show trials; he speaks at Communist Party conferences, but his voice is timid and his Socialist platitudes trite and unconvincing. He is awarded a medal, perhaps the Order of Lenin or the Hero of Socialist Labour, but is impaled on its gigantic pin. In the end, he is crushed by Russia, like an infant smothered by its mother as they sleep.
This may sound bleak, and it is, but it doesn’t capture the exhilaration of the two plays’ creativity and performances. The ensemble of eight (the saturnine, sinister Mikhail Umanets outstanding), directed by Krymov, hold you fixated with their intensity and skill; even the bustle of moving props and setting scenes is mesmerizing in their hands.
There is much theatrical sleight of hand throughout, especially in Genealogy, which is played on a wide space in front of a temporary stand in the ABC studio; look one way and, on the other, things materialise and disappear. Splattered paint becomes human forms, coats and jackets emerge, seemingly from nowhere, and, in the most overwhelming assault on an audience’s senses since the storm in 2013’s Slava’s Snowshow, a blizzard of paper cuttings, burning through with incandescent light, cascades over us.
That’s just one of the first of many wonders in a show that is no picnic. Rather, Opus No. 7 is a feast.

An early version of this review appeared in The West Australian 23.2.17

Monday, February 13, 2017

Theatre: The Gabriels (★★★★★)

Public Theatre
Written and directed by Richard Nelson
Designed by Susan Hilferty and Jason Ardizzone-West
Lighting designed by Jennifer Tipton
Sound designed by Scott Lehrer and Will Pickens
Featuring Mag Gibson, Lynn Hawley, Roberta Maxwell, Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders and Amy Warren
Subiaco Arts Centre
Until February 18

Early in What Did You Expect, the second of the trilogy of plays that constitutes Richard Nelson’s The Gabriels, we are told a story translated from a Russian play.
Two old men stand outside an apartment block. Through its windows, they can see a happy family enjoying their time together. What the old men know, but the family inside doesn’t, is that the family’s daughter has just drowned in the river.
It’s a moment deeply reminiscent of the “fell swoop” scene in Macbeth, or the playful family scene in The Wild Duck that presages its catastrophe.
It is the fulcrum of The Gabriels, a dagger in the heart of its story. We have been beautifully prepared for it, and events – or the discovery of them – follow swiftly after.
It’s one example of the invisible architecture of this intimate, monumental American masterpiece.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Theatre: BEATING THE ODDS ★★★½

The Hayley Stewart Story
The Voodoo Lounge
until 18 Feb 
It’s a sweet position to be in. Hayley Stewart, the proprietor of The Voodoo Lounge (“Setting the Standard in Adult Entertainment”) believes she has a story worth telling. She certainly has the means to do it – her cast are on the payroll and, to a large extent, pre-rehearsed, and if ever there was a site-specific setting, this is it.
The good news is that she’s made a pretty good fist of it. There are more than enough of the things she and her crew are experienced at to satisfy her existing audience (I’m not the person to ask about the quality of that work, but I suspect it was up there).
And while her lack of experience in the things she doesn’t customarily stage showed at times, she has the intelligence not to try too much or push too hard.
And she does have quite the story.