By Howard Korder
Directed by Yvonne Virsik
With Olivia Connolly, Vincent Miller, Dion Mills, David Whiteley, Trent Baker, Barry Friedlander, David Kambouris & Eva Parkin
Lighting by Nick Merrylees
The Lights (Feb 13 – March 10, 2002)- Paul Bugeja, Byteyourartist.com 16-Feb-02
Red Stitch, brain child of Vincent Miller (Artistic Director), has hit the Melbourne theatre scene with a vengeance, and is already into its second piece for the year, following a successful season of the company’s premiere production, ‘Extremities’ by William Mastrosimone. The company has scheduled 12 productions for 2002, a huge task for any company, but one surely all Melbourne artists hopes Red Stitch achieves as proof that independent, ensemble theatre can thrive in Melbourne once more as it did in the 70’s and 80’s.
Korder has written a harsh, urban tale which delves into the difficulty of survival in the modern world, especially in terms of human inter-relations. He splashes his characters across the city of New York, a metropolis filled with the dregs and downtrodden remnants of humanity…and yet juxtaposes this against some moments where hope for a better life might exist…at least for those who are prepared to survive, even at the expense of others.
Yvonne Virsik, a graduate from the VCA Director’s course in 2000, has taken an at times slightly fractured script (in terms of short, sharp scenes that require pace and high energy) and with a cast of talented actors, produced a more than palatable night of theatre.
The space itself is small, but was well utilised in a simple but effective manner. Sets were simply constructed and props kept to a minimum. Scene changes were rapid and rarely interrupted the flow of the dramatic tension. This show is about what actors can do on-stage, and allowing the audience to focus on this, as opposed to using swish sets and lighting designs to mask weak performances.
It was the two guest actors who left the most impression. Barry Friedlander was excellent as Diamond, the slick business man on the make, and Dion Mills, in a variety of roles, brought something very real and different to each. Trent Baker easily managed his dual roles of Erenhart and Mr Barry; David Whiteley was particularly good as Kraus, the uptight store manager and the guard at the World Trade Centre; and David Kambouris in multiple roles was strangely compelling as the queer ‘man with pants’. Eva Parkin playing Rose, one of the central figures to the plot, seemed to be ‘going through the motions’ somewhat, which could have been a character choice but didn’t come across as such initially. As the play progressed, this vanished as she became more and more attuned with her path through the central narrative, and was certainly one of the highlights by the conclusion. Olivia Connolly as Lillian, and Vincent Miller as her unfortunate partner Frederic, both had moments, but generally lacked consistency. However, as with Parkin, both did delve deeper into their characters truths in the second half, and seemed more comfortable and committed personally to the stories they had to tell.
Aside from the fact that the space itself was not well ventilated which made it a little uncomfortable in the very warm weather, the only possible areas that might require some fine tuning were the few moments of physical violence (which had a very faked quality to them) and also some alteration to the language, which has a strong US kilter to it not suited to the Australian voice. Several of the characters sounded as though they were written for African American actors, and Friedlander himself slipped inadvertantly at times into a vague US sounding accent, merely because the writing lends itself to that particular vernacular.
All in all though, a strong production, and a company of more than capable actors with much good work ahead of them in upcoming productions for Red Stitch.
Eva Parkin and Olivia Connolly in The Lights. Photo: Julian Dolman.