Unitec Theatre, Entry 1, Carrington Rd, Mt Albert, Auckland

25/10/2013 - 02/11/2013

Production Details

Meet the losers who refuse to lose …  

Balm in Gilead has been best described as Lanford Wilson’s documentary homage to the lower depths of New York’s Upper West side. Written in 1965, it is less a story, than a collection of characters, caught in a coffee shop, while the world revolves around them.

Based on the writer’s own experiences eavesdropping on patrons of a neighbourhood diner, it is a raucous symphony of simultaneous conversations – interlocking, overlapping, rising and subsiding – as scenes develop out of them. These are the riff-raff, the bums, the petty thieves, the scum, the lost, the desperate, the dispossessed, the cool – spiralling in an endless whirlpool – just trying to keep their heads above water.

They fight. They love. They survive. They live.

Balm in Gilead is life itself, trapped in a play.

Friday, 25 October – Saturday, 2 November 2013 (choose one)
7:00pm; plus Sat 2 Nov 2pm
Unitec Theatre, Building 6: Entry 1, Carrington Rd, Unitec Mt Albert Campus, Auckland 


Bobby – Kelly Gilbride
Tig – Albert Walker  
Marty – Jex Moore
Rake – Nicole Steven
Dopey – Anna Hayden
Ernesto /Xavier – Mel Bailey

Terry – Aymee Karaitiana
Rust – Lori Wallace
Judy – Faye Rillstone

Fick – Amy Atkinson
Babe – Alex Jordan

Franny – Stuart Shacklock
David – Linda Zheng
Bonnie – Eloise Pengelly
Ann – Tessa Jensen

Frank – Toby Stewart
Kay – Jessie Lawrence

Al /The Stranger – Boni Tukiwaho

Joe – Josh Booth
Darlene – Cathy Evans 

Direction: Jacque Drew
Production Manager: Mark Ingram
Set Design: Rachel Walker
Co-Production Manager: Calvin Hudson
Costume Design: Hannah Woods
Stage Manager: Danielle Reeves
Lighting Design: Tim Williams
Lighting Operator: Oliver Hawke
Sound Design: Steven Youhana
Sound Operator: Ruby van Dorp
Technical Manager: Jin Shin
ASM(s): Youra Huang, Beth Absolum
Technical Crew: Year 1s PDM students

Supervising acting tutors: Alexandra Whitham (Voice), Elizabeth Hawthorne (Movement), Pedro Ilgenfritz (Theatre studies), John Davies (Head of Live Performance)

Performance Technology tutor: Robert Hunte

Costume Design Assistants: Yr 3 Costume Design and Management Students;  Amy Beales, Keli Prince, Olivia Rowland, Sela Vaea  

Supervising costume tutors: Erin O'Neill, Shirley Fary

Theatre ,

Clearly defined personalities whose disparate stories connect

Review by Shirin Brown 27th Oct 2013

Unitec’s 2013 graduating students deliver a high energy performance of Balm in Gilead, a Lanford Wilson play set in the New York of the mid 1960s. 

The plot centres on the dispossessed junkies, hookers, hustlers and dykes who use Frank’s café as a meeting point, and we become privy to the challenges of their lives and the history that brings them together in this seedy environment. 

Overlapping dialogue, simultaneous scenes, breaking the fourth wall and frozen action draw attention to the separation of audience and stage.  At other times the thorough characterisation and the stories pull us into the action. 

It’s a great choice for a graduating class, providing lots of opportunities for character exploration, challenging accent work and the importance of making disparate stories connect together. 

Jacque Drew’s direction ensures that the ensemble cast of twenty characters are all clearly defined personalities, and that they listen to each other so the dialogue overlaps and creates tension without drowning out other voices.  

The staging is also really interesting with a theatre-in-the-three-quarter-round effect, with action also taking place ‘off stage’.  

The actors have worked hard to embody the roles, not an easy thing to do: moving into a completely different time and place.  They stay in role and the accent work is very strong. 

Stand-out performances include Cathy Evans as Darlene, who evokes a sense of self-confidence while also being out of place and out of her depth as a girl from Chicago in the big smoke.  Tessa Jensen is also very strong as Anne, the femme fatale hooker.  As Dopey, a junkie, Anna Haydon shifts well between being in the scene and commenting on the action, raising the profile of how we could think about what’s going on.   

Strong performances also from Boni Tukiwaho (Al/The Stranger) and Mel Bailey (Ernesto/Xavier), who both manage to change status and personae completely to carry off their two different roles within the play.  The two transsexuals, Stuart Shacklock and Linda Zheng, also deliver powerful performances.   

Stand out moments include the slow motion scene and the bursts of song, particularly ‘Balm of Gilead’ which brings out the singing talents of Jessie Lawrence, really well supported by the harmonising of the rest of the group.  Great tension builds between lesbians Rust (Lori Wallace) and Judy (Faye Rillstone) over Terry (Aymee Karaitiana), culminating in a beautifully executed fight scene. 

A thoroughly enjoyable performance and a pleasure to see a play from a different time and place with a large cast. 


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