Friday, December 29, 2006

Reunion / A Kind Of Alaska (The SOB Reviews) - Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Reunion / A Kind Of Alaska (The SOB Reviews) - Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Reunion - *1/2 (out of ****)
A Kind Of Alaska - **1/2 (out of ****)

Presented as a "Double Bill," David Mamet's Reunion and Harold Pinter's A Kind Of Alaska are currently being performed in tandem at the Sydney Theatre Company's Wharf Theatre with two of the same actors and all essential design elements used in both short plays.

The key difference aside from the playwrights is that each piece is individually directed -- the first by Andrew Upton, the second by Cate Blanchett. The married duo are set to jointly share the duties of artistic director for the famed theatre company at the close of 2007. Because the two plays are distinct from one another, I am reviewing each separately.

Reunion is a 50-minute play about the first meeting of alcoholic American veteran Bernie Cary (Robert Menzies) and his daughter Caroline Mindler (Justine Clarke) since he left her mother when Caroline was merely a child. With no pretense of even attempting a Boston accent (or an American one for that matter), Upton's direction loses something in the translation especially in steeping Bernie so deeply in lower class Aussie accent when this is really an American story. This makes it extremely difficult to understand Menzies.

Upton punctuates this short story with many sharp breaks scattered throughout as if to accentuate the passage of minutes or perhaps longer periods of time. However, one can't help but feel cheated for missing key dialogue that might have helped propel the story further along.

Still, there is some poignancy in learning how truly isolated and lonely these two individuals are, and indeed they do seem to connect as daughter and prodigal father. Bernie is clearly a lonely loser, although he indicates more than once that he plans to get remarried. Caroline expresses her loneliness and dissatisfaction with the state of her current marriage, thus the rationale for her reaching out.

Ultimately though, this Mamet tale simply doesn't feel complete, nor is the audience ever given any reason to really care about either character.

In her directorial debut, Blanchett achieves something more with Pinter's A Kind Of Alaska. This is an intriguing, quirky story about Deborah (Caroline Lee), a 45 year old woman who has been brought out of a deep sleep or coma after 29 years by her long-suffering Doctor Hornby (Menzies).

Hornby confronts Deborah with the shades of the truth regarding her years of sleep before finally allowing her sister Pauline (Clarke) to engage her in conversation. The acting in this one act play is much sharper and focused than in Reunion, and the exquisitely stark set design by Ralph Myers in which most of the stage is covered in water for both plays finally begins to make some sense -- especially as Deborah notes how for 29 years, her world has seemed like a hole with water seeping in. And as she agonizes over how that felt, the water slowly closes in around her.

While many in the sold-out crowd no doubt were enticed by the desire to glimpse the Sydney Theatre Company's future with the Upton/Blanchett team today, my recommendation would be to give them some time until they've completely adjusted to their new artistic roles.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Artistic Differences Celebrated: Blanchett & Upton Take Over Sydney Theatre Company (November 22, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #3 – Hedda Gabler (Brooklyn Academy of Music – Harvey Theatre, New York, NY) (May 25, 2006)

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