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NZ Fringe Festival 09
Once Upon a Time in Aro Valley
Written and Directed by Tza Drake
Criminal Productions
- stealing the show

at BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
From 20 Feb 2009 to 24 Feb 2009

Reviewed by John Smythe, 22 Feb 2009

To promote this play as "Scarfies meets late night Tarantino" is either wilful misrepresentation or it betrays an abject failure to understand what makes such models work.

All we get is Dennis (Stefan Anderson), more depressed than aghast, trying to talk his mate Gene (Jack Pierce) into helping him get rid of the body of his girlfriend whom he has inadvertently killed. A flashback to that moment with Liz (Barbara Woods) suggests he acted in self-defence and her death was an accident.

There is no strong character setting and inexorable build-up to innocence lost and compelling 'what-would-you-do?' moral dilemma (Scarfies), nor any ironic blend of humour and violence with rich, eclectic dialogue (Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, as per Wikipedia).

The darkness of the situation does produce the odd laugh as the men bumble through to the realisation they have to dismember her and bury her parts in different places. But because Tza Drake's script offers no convincing reason for this behaviour, it soon palls.

While the actors play out their roles competently, if in a minimal film-acting fashion (without the benefit of specific lighting, angles and editing to give it some dynamic), their characters have no existence beyond this situation. It is mentioned that Liz has friends, and presumably they all have family somewhere in the real world, but none of this is utilised to create the obstacles and challenges that might conceivably generate the sort of black comedy that makes us laugh in spite of ourselves.

The programme claims this play "speaks to audiences not usually catered for [in theatre] - males 25 plus." Well for my money, it doesn't.
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See also reviews by:
 Lynn Freeman (Capital Times);