A MAN WALKS INTO A BAR
24/03/2016 - 26/03/2016
Don’t be fooled by the title. A Man Walks into a Bar, showing at Te Pou as part of the Rangatahi Series, is no joke.
The thought-provoking and fiery two-hander walks the thin line between playful bar banter and an intimate undressing of the complexity of human relationships.
Chris Martin of the Ugly Shakespeare Company directs the tense, but charmingly comedic standoff between Briar Collard (The Great American Scream) and Lane Twigden (Happy Days Musical).
Even without a punch line this show is a hard hitter in every respect and should not be missed!
A Man Walks into a Bar
Te Pou Theatre: 44A Portage Rd, New Lynn, Auckland
Thursday 24 – Saturday 26 March
7pm (1 hour)
Tickets can be purchased through iticket:
Operator: Ariana Shipman
Producers: Hannah Muir and Briar Collard
Theatre , Comedy ,
Challenging in all the right ways
Review by Lexie Matheson 26th Mar 2016
Coming away from the theatre deeply confused by what we have just experienced can be an immensely satisfying feeling. It leaves us so much to do and to think about. A Man Walks into a Bar falls neatly into this category.
Aware that David Geary’s A Man Walks into a Bar apparently sits comfortably in the absurdist genre, I am excited to be going to Te Pou Tokomanawa, the Auckland Home of Māori Theatre to see a new production of this work, as part of their exciting Rangatahi 2016 Series.
Geary, whose work includes such great modern New Zealand classics as Pack of Girls, The Learner’s Stand, The Farm and, my personal favourite, Lovelock’s Dream Run, is up there with Gary Henderson of Skin Tight, An Unseasonable Fall of Snow, and Sunset Café, fame vying for the Most Versatile Kiwi Playwright Award as each has plays that slip and slide from genre to genre and keep us forever guessing and on the very edges of our seats.
Cutting it fine due to a combination of pre-Easter traffic and a torrential downpour, my family and I walked into the Te Pou bar at exactly 7pm to find an interesting bunch of audience members waiting quietly for the doors to the auditorium to open.
No programme is evident but, in keeping with the experience we are about to have, there is a blackboard menu that tells us that the actors we are about to share forty-five minutes (approx) with are Briar Collard, Lane Twigden and Adam Rohe, and that the creatives involved are producer Hannah Muir, director Chris Rex Martin and designer Ariana Shipman. It’s a cute idea and it works a treat.
When the time comes and the doors open we find ourselves in a bar with eight tables covered in black plastic cloths and, over the next few minutes, every seat in the house is filled. A rather tacky barman (the inimitable Adam Rohe) saunters to our table and perfunctorily asks us what we want to drink. Both my partner and I chose red wine. When the wine duly arrives our son is told to come back when he has some hair on his chin – yes, Rohe is ‘that type’ of barman, the sort of self-satisfied, infra dig and uppity chap who wouldn’t be out of place at a watering hole such as SPQR mixing with the starlets of Shortland Street or Filthy Rich and pretending not to care. Rohe does the job, becomes invisible, and we don’t see him again. Clever work indeed.
In one corner of the performance area there is a small bar adequately equipped with bottles and glasses and, disturbingly close to where I am sitting, a microphone on a stand. Next to the microphone, an ancient, upright Winifred Atwell style ragtime piano with a guitar perched precariously on top stands waiting for drunken fingers to begin hammering on the keys – if only that piano could talk. Between the bar and the piano there is yet another table with two chairs and, because I’d done my homework, I rightly assume that this is where most of the action of the play will take place.
After a suitably agonising wait Man (an hirsute Lane Twigden) walks into the bar, orders a drink and sits down at the table. His opening line is, predictably, “a man walks into a bar” and this is followed immediately by hysterical – if somewhat forced – female laughter from the auditorium and Woman (Briar Collard) arrives through the crowd.
It’s clear from the outset that this production has been created with a great deal of care, that the complex and, at times, difficult text is well orchestrated and that this is matched by a physical choreography that serves to get Geary’s text off the page and into our faces with alacrity.
The lighting and sound are effectively integrated with the text and the whole has a sense of thoughtful, managed control with everyone concerned on top of their game and doing exactly what has been thoroughly rehearsed. Every permutation of the ‘man walks into a bar’ joke is explored with élan and, almost without realising it, we find ourselves engaged in the rather unyielding relationship that is developing between these two eccentric characters. It’s clever playwriting and the acting and directing match up to the playwright’s expectations most of the time.
Geary doesn’t make it easy – he never does – but the actors manage to maintain an intelligent flow that never falters and the audience responds regularly with predictable laughter.
There is ample opportunity for social comment and irascible, alcohol-driven, bar-room behaviour with the karaoke version of the Bee Gees ‘Islands in the Stream’ and the channelling of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton is a real hoot. Hemingway himself would have sincerely approved!
Twigden and Collard are like an old married couple whose lives, lubricated by alcohol, are lived and played out down at the RSA. They interrupt each other, end each other’s jokes, thrust the knife home and explore the comic power of silence with flawless ease. The running quip “there’s just no picking” is used most effectively.
As the evening progresses and the alcohol kicks in mortality is discussed and the quality of the jokes deteriorates – “three bits of string walk into a bar” is a real groaner – and the resonances of Simpson (A Resounding Tinkle), Stoppard (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead), Donleavy (A Fairy Tale of New York), Satre (Huis Clos), Pinter (The Dumb Waiter) and even Arthur Miller (Some Kind of Love Story) rattle around in my head. They’re all there in this craftily structured play, every character with a dark side and a need to talk the subtext, is present like a ricochet in Geary’s wily human observations and deviously shrewd writing.
There’s a lot of intentional repetition and all the things we think and talk about as we quietly drink ourselves into oblivion, alone, in places like this, seem imbedded in Geary’s smoke-stained walls. I muse again: If only that honky-tonk could talk …
Twigden and Collard are well matched, work well together, and director Martin has created a laudable production but I leave wishing they’d performed at me less, drawn me in more, made my experience a bit more like actually being in a bar and over-hearing all that embarrassing personal stuff that we catch when people we don’t know drink too much and talk too loudly, and we hope we will remember all of it the next day. We never do remember all of it of course, and it’s from experiences like these that great playwrights like Geary stitch it all together for us and create these sublimely good roles for all of us to play – if we’re up for it – and these actors certainly are.
The forty-five minute journey comes to an end as the two actors who have walked into the bar leave to the sounds of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’.
A Man Walks into a Bar is a most interesting evening, not altogether fun, but challenging in all the right ways. Overall, director Rex Wilson has, along with his actors, chosen to consciously ‘perform’ the work when it might have been a better choice to go down the path of extreme naturalism. This said – and it’s only my opinion – the audience leaves happy with what they have experienced.
The Rangatahi series looks really exciting and, in my experience, any production at Te Pou Tokomanawa Theatre is seriously worthy of your support.
(One of the many benefits of doing this reviewing work is getting to see live performance in a wide range of venues – some traditional, some not so – and I have to admit that Te Pou Tokomanawa is currently my favourite. It’s professionally run, there is always a sense of work being made under its roof and the work is both invigorating and personal. I think of it as my whare, my place to be and stand, and I have never been discouraged from thinking this by any experience I have had there.)
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