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A SCRIPT IN SEARCH OF A DRAMATURG

Print Version

A DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN
Written and Directed by Rebecca Sim
Performed by Night Owls Theatre Collective

at Newtown Community Centre, Wellington
From 2 Dec 2013 to 8 Dec 2013

Reviewed by James McKinnon, 3 Dec 2013


A Disaster Waiting to Happen presents a slightly amped-up version of a classic comedy scenario: Chad is covertly dating three women simultaneously and, well, there's the eponymous disaster.

Chad gets a sidekick, Billy, who – as the one-word character sketches in the program inform us – is also a character foil, a “caring” alternative to Chad's “tank.” Billy also happens to be in love with one of Chad's girlfriends, providing another source of dramatic tension.

Most versions of this plot settle for two rivals, but playwright Rebecca Sim adds a third so that she can explore different dynamics between 21 year-old Chad and the younger, “emotional” Melissa, the “seductive” older woman, Abby, and his long-term girlfriend Dorine (“whiny”).

There is some confusion about what genre of play this is. The characters, like the seven dwarves, have about as much depth as their one-word descriptions imply. There's no problem with that – everyone loves the seven dwarves – but the actors often play the material as if it was serious drama rather than goofy comedy. And the script contains some cues to this effect; for example, serious, “how I moved on” monologues are not a typical feature of slap-stick comedy.

To make this plot work, as either drama or comedy, the play needs to show us why the three women love Chad so much. But all we see of Chad is that he is a bland, repulsive coward. He is consistently rude and unpleasant to all three women (often deliberately, to make them leave so that he won't be caught in a lie when the next one arrives), and there's no evidence that suggests anyone would like him – even his friend Billy tells us he's a jerk. As a result, it's hard to sympathise with the female characters, because their obsession with the thoroughly undesirable Chad makes them seem stupid.

Having said that, the three female performers do what they can to rise above the unpleasant adjectives they are saddled with. Sophie James make Dorine sympathetic enough that the audience can feel good about her future, and Jessica Coppell has fun with the seductive Abby even though the script often asks her to do highly illogical things.

Iris Henderson's Melissa is the highlight of the show. Henderson, a very talented actor, plays the oblivious Melissa with the energy and commitment that the script demands in order for its comic potential to be fully realised. Her performance offers a hint of what this show wants to be.

A Disaster Waiting to Happen suffers from the lack of a productive dialogue between the playwright and the director, because they are the same person, learning to do both jobs at once. This is almost always a mistake. When learning to direct, choose well-tested material to practice with; when learning to playwright, make sure you have an experienced dramaturg and/or director.

To develop as a playwright, you need to see your work produced, and you need feedback from a director. Observing how other artists respond to the challenge of interpreting your work and presenting it to an audience gives insight into where you are and where you need to be, and a good director or dramaturg will ask you productive questions that show what you need to clarify (if it was clear, after all, the question wouldn't have been asked!).

A Disaster Waiting to Happen shows the consequences of a playwright directing her own work, which essentially short circuits the important process of clarifying plot points, story arcs, and character development. A lot of the play's problems could have been solved if someone had asked the right questions at the right time.
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