Wednesday, 11 August 2010

3CR Review > Dying City

Reviewed by Carolyn Gunn on Friday, 06.08.10 for 3CR’s “Curtain Up” Sundays at 1.00pm on 855AM.
The Director’s Prog notes describe this play thus: ”Christopher Shinn’s moving and highly personal play is an intimate story of loss and identity buffeted by monstrous world events. The play examines the lives of three people, linked by love, family, war and politics” and upon viewing this work it is all that and more.

Kat Chan’s clever set design (within black tabs) uses dozens of cardboard boxes at different heights/levels – one views them firstly as room divisions but as the play moves on we interpret them as storage for a war widow intending to move on, I also saw it as the irony of ‘closure in a box’. Other physical components, i.e lighting, sound etc really compliment the production.

The young war widow is Kelly whose husband Craig has died in Iraq – she is quiet and withdrawn in her grief and is reserved in her response to a visit from Craig’s gay twin brother Peter who visits after a 12 mths absence following the funeral; she is physically and personally drab and is, of all things, a therapist by profession but privately is not coping. Brother-in-law Peter is an actor of middling success, his latest relationship has broken up, so as the play starts we meet two very broken people, obviously emotionally stressed but….. is there more to the psychological and emotional damage than we first perceive? Also throughout the play I felt ‘denial’ was an underlying factor.

The play switches from the present with Peter and Kelly to flashbacks of Kelly and Craig’s marriage before he went for his final tour of duty in Iraq – but the marriage is not without difficulties, many of them seeming to come from Craig’s military involvement and what the army has turned him into. Whilst not key points in the play, there are references to Peter and Craig’s father being a Vietnam veteran (here I recall the Mi Lai massacre and subsequent charges against some of the U.S. military), then there’s the 9/11 destruction of the Twin Towers in New York and more recently a comment by the U.S. commander of Abu Ghraib who estimated later that 90% of detainees in the prison were innocent.

So throughout the grief and drama of the three characters in this play, war in general does make its point and particularly the lasting (and often hidden) impact it has on so many of its participants.

In departing for Iraq, Craig left Kelly on a stormy and emotional note, chilling in his feelings and explanations and of his personal and ambitious views for his future….and her hopes for a family life and children disintegrate – so beneath her natural and expected grief there are many issues that one doubts that she will ever deal with. Twin brother Peter gets by theatrically up to a point and resorts constantly to copies of the emotional and disturbing emails he received from Craig…..reading them again and again.

Now to the two actors – Firstly Zoe Ellerton-Ashley as Kelly – so bleak and reserved in her responses to Peter yet surprising with strong outbursts on occasion; we see her mostly happy, young and vivacious with husband Craig until their final scene – the demanding and significant changes in mood/emotions and physical approaches were very well met.

Brad Williams in the roles of the twin brothers, the military Craig and the gay actor Peter again faced dramatic challenges – we see the gradual changes in Craig and sense in his personality something very tense simmering underneath…. As Peter there was a lighter and a necessary slight theatrical approach but one that suggested to me a naiveté in the complete understanding of all that had transpired…….and its consequences… But there again each person in life deals with tragedy so very differently……

There is much more to this 90 minute play than I can describe here – and yes it does sound like a heavy night at the theatre – BUT the show, as directed by Matt Scholten, was so interesting and absorbing both with its text and excellent performances, I can only say ‘highly recommended’ and that it’s the best piece of fringe theatre I have seen in quite a while….and in basic terms, this drama ‘will really get you in’.

HOY POLLOY’s production of–“DYING CITY” plays Tues to Sat at 8.15pm and 5pm on Sundays – season runs to 29th August………Venue is the warm and comfortable Mechanics Institute performing space, Cnr Sydney and Glenlyon Rds Brunswick. Tram Route 19 – stop 21. BKGS: 9016 3873 or

Challenging theatre – don’t miss it…

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