Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Bird Man’s Wife

Whoa! Just when you think it’s safe to go to the theatre!

One thing needs to be said right up front: The Bird Man’s Wife is not a bedtime story. The Bird Man, for one thing, is not the pilot my mum sang to me about who had the penchant for flying upside down. And I think we can safely assume his wife is no Amelia Earhart, either!

Rachel Hogan’s psychodrama starts very slowly, but it heats up much like an Alfred Hitchcock film. The birds, however, are not the aggressors in this tangled web of psychoses. Drawn a little too deeply into a patient’s troubled and convoluted past, Doctor Walton (Adam Salter) finds himself embroiled in a web of deceit. His concern for his patient’s welfare drags him deeper into the futility, with tragic consequences.

The play explores a most interesting period in the history of psychotherapy, and questions the validity of many of our assumptions about mental health. Those with a stronger understanding of Freud may find themselves with something to argue about, but even for the ignoramus (yes, I fit this category, as, I suspect, did Freud himself) the theme is engaging and pertinent.

The exceptional cast of four is led by Alexandra Howard as Daphne, the bird man’s wife herself. The role is demanding and intense, and she carries it well. She is well accompanied by Phillip Meddows, whose dramatic intensity was fine, even if the pair needed a little more coaching in combat.

There is little I can say without divulging too much of the plot, but I found the play to be very engaging and well worth the excursion to Canberra’s far side… which is now even more deserving of that name for having hosted this play.

The Bird Man’s Wife closed in Belconnen tonight, but is said to be opening in Sydney in 2013. I haven’t been able to find the details, but if you like Lexx Productions’ page on Facethingy I’m sure you’ll hear about it in good time.


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RentEveryman Theatre has opened a fine production of a modern classic at the Courtyard.

The story of a group of impoverished friends struggling to make their name in New York under the shadow of HIV/AIDS, Rent is among the longest-running Broadway musicals, having been performed at the Nederlander Theatre from 1996 to 2008. Its historical significance (both social and theatrical) is great, and it is starting to show its age, with a few obscure lines now highlighting the changes that have come about in western society’s responses to HIV/AIDS and homosexuality in the last decade. It remains, however, a very poignant story, highly developed in character and plot; qualities that are extremely rare in musical theatre.

It can’t be denied that Rent is a big show. Nothing about it is intimate; its themes are as lofty as its music is histrionic. And its characters, while well-developed, are nonetheless representatives of archetypes more than they are individual personae. So to squeeze this vast musical into the Courtyard at the Canberra Theatre Centre is a curious choice. Perhaps it is the bite…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.


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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-posterStories can broaden your horizons or deepen your insight. Many of them fail to do either, and this is what I would call a dud movie, though my bar isn’t very high really; even Quantum of Solace broadened my horizons a little! It’s only occasionally that you encounter a story that so closely aligns with your own experience—whether in the abstract or in the literal sense—that you just find yourself completely immersed in it. I haven’t encountered it for some time, and I may have forgotten what it was like, because The Perks of Being a Wallflower just took my breath away.

The story of a quiet kid with a troubled past who finds the beginning of high school difficult is hardly new; in fact it’s just about as cliché as they come, but this film provides such a rich backstory and such expertly-developed characters that there is no sense of the cliché about it. It doesn’t take this Pollyanna approach that fools us into thinking that everything will be alright, but it still takes a glass-half-full sort of attitude to life’s dark periods.

The cast, led by an older-than-his-years Logan Lerman, are each one perfectly cast and wonderfully directed. Emma Watson shakes off completely the stain of Hermione Grainger and is the glue drawing attention back to the somewhat depressed protagonist. They are immersed in a world of 1990s grunge-esque culture that doesn’t allow any room for stereotypes without banning them altogether.

The nineties is something of a nondescript decade. Its specific characteristics are not instantly recognisable, and because of a slowed birth rate in developed countries in the 1970s, there are a relatively small proportion of us who think of it as our coming-of-age era, making it an unpopular choice for writers of historical fiction. The decade was characterised by a nervousness that resulted from financial downturns and shifting cultural values. This was the first decade when a critical mass of westerners came to see discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation or political alignment as intolerable evils, and actually ceased to tolerate them. It was a time of flux, and as such, it defies the kind of definition and clarity the preceding decades enjoy. Add to that the prevailing winds of artistic expression and fashion being a postmodernism that borrowed and redefined aesthetics and oeuvres from the past century, and it really isn’t an easy time to narrow down. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is, I think, the first film made after the nineties that depicts the decade faithfully.

And how! I was 18 again. I felt like I knew these characters and belonged in these spaces. And there was nothing so distinctly American as to be foreign, which really is an achievement for an American film.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower hits that amazing balance of being perfectly mainstream in aesthetic, but with those deeper qualities of impeccable characterisation, a thoroughly engaging story, and a deep moral purpose. And not your deep-as-whale-poo kind of deep; deep like plays-your-heart-like-a-violin deep. Most American films find these qualities elusive, and it is a great relief to enjoy an American film that takes storytelling seriously.


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