Arch Enemies and Other Close Acquaintances

BATS Theatre, Wellington

15/02/2007 - 19/02/2007

NZ Fringe Festival 2007

Production Details

Written and performed by Olivia Bryant
Director – Ellie Smith
Workshopping and physical direction – Tom Beauchamp

New York – the place of infinite possibilities and very often impossibilities and a place to collect stories that have to be told. Stories that most people would expect to find at the movies or in the imagination. Arch Enemies and Other Close Acquaintances is a solo show that tells some of the stories and conversations collected by Olivia Bryant during her five years living on Manhattan Island. “These stories have been brewing inside me for up to seven years. It’s a relief to finally get them out,” she says.

Olivia moved to New York in 1998 to attend a theatre school. After two years she was hooked and stayed on another three years working in numerous ‘between roles/actor jobs’ such as furniture removal, selling apples, dressing up as a pickle and of course waitressing. Most of her stories were collected from talking to eccentric clientele such as the woman who would take about 25 dietary supplements with her meal to cure neuroses (they weren’t working), the extremely fussy eaters and the overly demanding ones. “Every table had the potential to be an adventure,” says Olivia. “I even got tickets to Armani’s first runway show and after-party in New York through serving a table of fashionistas one night.”

But it wasn’t all good. In fact it mostly wasn’t good. At the time it was understandably degrading for Olivia, then in her early 20s, but she didn’t realise that it would give her plenty of experiences to write a play about. “I’ve combined many of the stories into one. So instead of many restaurants, I do different jobs in one restaurant such as running coats, answering phones and waiting tables. In the play, the chef is unable to fire me because he is being bribed by my landlord to keep me on.”
In reality her landlord was a Polish woman who’s husband was in the mafia and was spending time in prison for ordering the death of a tenant. Within this building, Olivia lived in a walk-in closet for many months. “It belonged to a neurotic, washed up singer who needed some extra cash. I paid $US650 per month to live in a closet with no windows. I was desperate.” She adds: “My neighbour was addicted to collecting things off the street. Her apartment looked like the inside of a rubbish dump. Her floor was built up so she could store all her books under planks. She even had a map to locate her books.”

Arch Enemies and Other Close Acquaintances is a high energy roller coaster ride that mixes physical theatre with fast character changes and comedy.

Sound & voices - Olivia Bryant
Lights, design, technical operation - Rob Larsen
Costume, props, graphics, publicity - Shirley Kauter
Stage Manager - Jay Tweedie

Theatre ,

1 hr

Energetic performance

Review by Michael Wray 22nd Feb 2007

New York City – city that never sleeps, centre of the universe, breeding ground for Arch Enemies and Other Close Acquaintances. This is a one-woman show filled with a selection of wacky characters, all portrayed by Olivia Bryant and directed by Ellie Smith.

The central character is Bryant herself, struggling to come to terms with the sidewalk attitude and grit of the inhabitants around her. It starts serenely enough, with our timid Kiwi sitting in a park, enjoying the company of the pigeons and longing to know a fellow visitor a little better. From the action that follows, we understand that park time is her only quality time.

We see Bryant trying her hand at various jobs, but all produce a swift dismissal. Or a quick run from immigration control. None of these help with meeting the rent, which is not good news for either Olivia or the landlord who is sub-letting to her and needs the rent. The sub-let premises amount to little more than a wardrobe, amusingly depicted by little more than a wardrobe! The intimidating landlord is a blessing in disguise. She has the (mafia) connections to get Olivia a job at a restaurant – the same restaurant from which she has already been dismissed as maitre d’. This is the last chance. New York will either make her or break her.

The show has some clever moments and Bryant is obviously a talented performer. It’s a fast-paced show, consisting of a variety of voices and mannerisms. The Bloomingdale scene even allows the opportunity to display some physical, athletic prowess, all from inside a bag. The famed hustle and bustle of New York is clearly portrayed in both the selection of characters and Bryant’s energetic performance.

The set is simple and effective and I particularly admired the use of spotlights to depict restaurant tables. For all the good however, there is a "but…" Single-performer multi-character shows are a very common format. A show that treads that path needs something to differentiate it from the others and I struggled to see that distinguishing edge.


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Energy to burn

Review by Lynn Freeman 22nd Feb 2007

Along with plays about flats and broken relationships, plays by young New Zealanders about their big OE experiences are popular fodder. Olivia Bryant is the latest with her solo play Arch Enemies and other close acquaintances, looking at the curious characters and weird situations she found herself dealing with while in the Big Apple. 

As a performer she’s got presence and energy to burn, and nails the eccentric characters brilliantly.  The use of the spinning closet is a clever piece of set design.  The play as a whole, though, doesn’t quite hang together, it’s too bitsy and some sections, like the one on fashion, don’t come off. 


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Admirable skills

Review by John Smythe 17th Feb 2007

As an exhibition of character and physical acting skills, Olivia Bryant’s Arch Enemies and Other Close Acquaintances is a stand-out Fringe show. We can only sit and admire her vocal and physical dexterity as she re-creates a distilled and blended range of the real / surreal experiences she had in New York in her twenties, until – I’m guessing – Immigration caught up with her.

“These are the conversations that rained on my brain and never stopped falling,” Olivia explains, “until they landed on the page and on this stage.” Alone on a park bench she is given to such poetic musings, including an erotic fantasy about a presumably unattainable man …

In a city where celebrity is all – and being the publicist for one conjures miraculous openings while mere mortals must book half a decade ahead – day-to-day survival involves high-stress but low-paid and often demeaning jobs, in the employ of hard nuts and at the service of even nuttier customers. Bryant plays them all with heightened physicality (abetted by physical director Tom Beauchamp) at a pace that replicates the quality, if that’s the word, of life in the fizzy Big Apple.

Then there’s the walk-in closet Olivia lives in, sublet from a neurotic, washed up singer who needs extra cash, where their landlord’s mafia husband is in prison for ordering the murder of a tenant. And the neighbour who stores so much junk she’s built a false floor above her books … I do get a bit confused here, differentiating the landlady, room mate and neighbour …

The closet is an interior-decorated box on wheels while chrome and vinyl chairs and pools of light (designer, Rob Larsen) evoke The Odeon, a composite of all the places Bryant really worked in, at different jobs, less able at the time to appreciate them for the extraordinary experiences she now sees them as.

The more surreal sequences include rolling about in a body bag and an excellent illusion involving animated coats on a rack: a welcome oasis of whimsy amid the welter of words that generate the clatter and clutter of NYC. The character, location and style transitions – my hobby-horse for this Fringe – are fluid and faultless …

With so much talent and truth brought to bear on show, then, I have to ask why Arch Enemies and Other Close Acquaintances is not as engaging as it could – and should – be. The answer, I think, has to do with what works and what doesn’t when anyone returns from overseas and seeks to regale family and friends, let alone total strangers, with tales of their adventures. All the usual rules for effective engagement apply.

Bryant, and her other director Ellie Smith, need to work at ways for Olivia to connect more directly with her audience: a skill Smith herself has in abundance (Shirley Valentine and Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother spring to mind as but two examples). Such stories are best told for a purpose and as a contribution to those being told them. And if they don’t somehow add up to more than the sum of their parts, or otherwise reward the attention we’ve paid, we leave less than satisfied. Admirable skills alone are not enough.

The real or imagined conclusion involving the park guy does gives the play a sense of shape, and maybe there is something there, in Olivia’s need for intimate connection amid the maelstrom of impersonal contacts, that could infuse the work throughout …


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