26/06/2007 - 30/06/2007
Written by: Rex Armstrong, Bronwyn Elsmore, M.E. Macdonald, Brett Simpson, Laurence Dolan, Patrick Graham, Thomas Sainsbury and Sally Sutton
Directed by: Tony Forster
Set design by Rex Armstrong and Devan Jackson
Lighting and sound design by Andrew Watts
Welcome to the Sea Breeze Motel, Room 9. Teacups stained, sheets iffy, train thundering by in the dead of night …
Eight writers, eight plays, 23 characters and only four actors. “Motel Nights” presents a welcome challenge for actors Tom Kane, Tracey McGuire, Marion Shortt and Jared Turner.
“The range of styles and characters in the eight pieces means the actors have to really stretch themselves, and the challenge was finding actors with the requisite versatility,” says director Tony Forster.
Forster has been working with Auckland Playwrights Collective writers over the past eight months to develop the scripts for “Motel Nights”, thanks to funding from Playmarket and Creative Communities. Having spent most of the last 20 years working in film and television, Forster was keen to return to directing for the stage in Auckland. “It’s exciting to have the chance to direct not just one, but eight totally different flavours of play all at once”, says Forster.
All eight pieces in “Motel Nights” are set in the same dilapidated motel room. They follow the fortunes of thwarted honeymooners, a pregnant schoolgirl, a faded rock star, an ex-con and even a rugby player, as they find themselves in situations that range from drama to comedy to farce.
The presentation of short plays is an emerging trend in theatre worldwide. Its popularity is increasing in direct proportion to the phenomena of shrinking attention span. “It’s a bit like having a remote control and channel surfing in the theatre,” says Forster, “with something new every ten minutes”.
“Motel Nights” is the first production from the Auckland Playwrights Collective. The eight playwrights, Rex Armstrong, Laurence Dolan, Bronwyn Elsmore, Patrick Graham, M.E. Macdonald, Thomas Sainsbury, Brett Simpson and Sally Sutton, formed the Collective in 2006 to develop and produce new work. The Collective also runs “Read Raw”, a series of monthly public readings of full length plays in development.
Performing in Auckland from Tuesday 26 June until Saturday 30 June 2007 at the Herald Theatre, Aotea Square. The play begins at 8pm, and is brought to you by STAMP at The Edge.
Who: Auckland Playwrights Collective
What: “Motel Nights” – An evening of short plays.
When: Tuesday 26 June to Saturday 30 June 2007, at 8pm
Where: The Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland CBD
Cost: $28, $20 (handling fee may apply)
Booking: 09-307-5000, www.ticketek.co.nz
Review by Nik Smythe 27th Jun 2007
A series of eight stories by eight different playwrights, performed by four actors, all taking place in the same room in the Seabreeze Motel. As one might perhaps expect, the subject matters explored within these four walls generally veer into the darker side of seediness. Tales of abandonment, deception and betrayal, control and freedom, licentious murder, undead possession, familial cruelty, suicide, guilt, fear.
In the first story, Blood on the Tracks by Rex Armstrong, the protagonist (Tom Kane), a writer who’s checked in for the grimy underbelly type atmosphere to bring forth his muse, comments on what sad and lonely places motel rooms invariably are. His observation is pretty much supported throughout the remaining seven chapters.
Although each short play is independent and essentially unrelated, they are inexorably linked thru their common location. They are also theatrically linked by scorned motel proprietress June, (Marion Shortt), who’s co-proprietor husband ran off with some bimbo. June resets the room between each guest, voicing her bitter judgements on the lives people lead and questioning the inevitability of her own place in the scheme of things.
Some of the stories read like fables, such as Laurence Dolan’s Legless, the least bleak but still quite twisted wee tale of honeymooning newlyweds stuck for the night with their paraplegic best man, all in the one room.
Choice by Bronwyn Elsmore follows, a pedestrian account of a pregnant lesbian coming out to her stiffly conservative father, which is altogether less eventful or dynamic than most of the other works.
Brett Simpson’s Solo Tour is also quite entertaining fare with a creepy undercurrent, concerning a has-been rock star gone solo and his enthusiastic stalker.
Other episodes are simply harsh and unforgiving parables of detestable scoundrels dealing their blows and either receiving their comeuppance or not. For instance, in M. E. Macdonald’s The Getaway, the innocent schoolgirl is not only completely taken advantage of, she is somewhat ceremoniously dealt to once her presence and predicament becomes inconvenient.
Likewise, Thomas Sainsbury’s Cold is stark and vicious, wherein the black sheep of a well to do family is being similarly handled and although the sadistic connotations are stronger, the outcome is quite different; both less and more tragic.
Ultimately the casting choices, under Tony Forster’s accomplished direction, are sound ones. The four cast members each play numerous characters with the required versatility, although each actor tends to similar types. As a loose, non-comprehensive guide: Jared Turner plays the more serious and conservative roles; Tom Kane carries the zanier, slicker and/or more streetwise personalities; Marion Shortt plays the naive young things and Tracey McGuire takes the more experienced and confident female roles.
The straightforward set designed by Rex Armstrong and Devan Jackson, perfunctory as it is, has a satisfying iconic simplicity to it. Andrew Watts’ ‘theatre-noir’ lighting and sound designs combine to evocative effect. There is a cozy sort of comfort in the sound of a freight train hurtling by a dark room cast in the shadow of louvre blinds.
Overall this ‘theatre noir’ production is well mounted. Certainly some shows have greater impact than others and a few niggly little things could increase the play’s power, not least having a gun that actually goes bang. But at the end of the day (which is when most of the events take place) Motel Nights is an intriguing exploration of the seedy motel room as a place for collaboration and conflict; both a sanctuary and a prison.
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