Summer Shorts

Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

09/12/2008 - 12/12/2008

Production Details

Three NZ plays: Shocking ! Funny! Disturbing!
Two stroppy American plays!

A journey into the aspects of both sides of an issue. Enter the fantasy world of the characters’ minds as they endeavour to save their relationship.

Robbie and Cole are two burglars, breaking into a house for your ordinary run-of-the-mill burglary. Things fall apart, however, when the occupants of the house return unexpectedly early.

Penned by Jeff Whitty (author of the book of Broadway hit AVENUE Q). A glimpse into the lives of New Yorkers where themes of making it in the Big Apple, trust and image all collide in one disastrous evening.

Sally has an important engagement to attend where, "Serious cash may be expected to change hands." But the babysitter’s mother is in hospital with a stone. Friend Polly has a suggestion: "A quid pro quo." Will Polly ‘dick’ Sally? What would David Mamet say? What would Mamet women do? A wonderfully insightful – and hilarious – two-hander.

John’s surprised. He thought he was going to the other place; you know, down below. But here he is getting fitted for a pair of angels’ wings. Bureaucratically angelic Angela knows more about John than he realises. But is Heaven all it’s cracked up to be? 

Summer Shorts 
9-12 December 2008
Gryphon on Ghuznee
Bookings 934 4068
Tkts $20/$18
Produced in Association with:

Vignettes with varied themes

Review by Kate Blackhurst 15th Dec 2008

The five playlets that comprise Summer Shorts all rely heavily on the power of dialogue and the ‘reveal’ (the aha moment). It is hard to pull this off in a short space of time, as there are limited foundations to be laid, and some of the plays work better than others. Due to some slick scene changes however, the pieces fit together well and the momentum is maintained.

The evening kicks off with Fault (written by Sam Fisher; directed by Bex Wetherhead) in which a couple dissect their relationship. Alistair (Nick Zwart) and Jane (Kate Clarkin) sit side-by-side at a counselling session but it soon becomes clear that there are two sides to every story as they each act out their own version of events. The other actors, Rachel (Rose Guise) and Jason (Paul Waggot) remain on the stage throughout to flesh out the accounts.

Nothing in a relationship is black and white, as the shifting carpet squares – laid out on the stage like a chess board – can attest. Once things start going wrong, is it possible to right them again? Should you apportion blame or just walk away? The repetitive dialogue doesn’t go anywhere, which could be a sign of improvisation, or it could parallel the downward spiral of a failing relationship.

Nick Zwart acts differently in each adaptation; sympathetic in one and a complete bastard in the other. It’s easy to agree with Jason who says ‘everyone thinks you should leave her’ as Jane stomps around barefoot and bristling with confrontation. Although her portrayal of each version is too similar for the reveal to be truly effective, she does get the best line – ‘I’m not unstable; I’m just depressed.’

We are ready for the high energy intro to The Intervention (written by Jeff Whitty; directed by Vivien Bell) as the characters burst onto a set occupied by a couple of beat-up sofas, and proceed to explain the stage directions. Alec (Phil Darkins), Rita (Sara Velasquez), and Shannon (Jo Crilly) read out testimonials lecturing Shannon’s brother, Tom (Nathan Green) on why he should give up drinking.

They claim to ‘love you like crazy’, ask him to ‘accept the help I’m offering today’, and present him with a box. In a theatre convention if a box is placed in front of someone and they don’t open it straight away, you know that it conceals something of importance. The ruse is perpetrated by Shannon’s new actor boyfriend, Sven (Walter McGinnis) which just goes to prove you should never trust an actor. Although you can see the revelation coming, the dialogue is good and the pauses well-worked.

The shortest and sharpest piece is Breaking and Entering (written and directed by Dean Hewison) in which two bungling burglars Robbie (Simon Smith) and Cole (Jonny Potts) break into a house and attempt to pull off a heist with Guy Ritchie–esque dialogue and attention to detail. Their cover is blown when the homeowners (Marjorie McKee and Barry Lakeman) return unexpectedly and things take several dramatic and comic turns. At a running time of about five minutes, this is a perfect piece of ensemble acting and scriptwriting.

The Mamet Women (written by Frederick Stroppel; directed by Phil Darkins) is another highlight with its superb dialogue and fast pace. Stuffed full of quotable bons mots, (‘I’m speaking ethics; you’re speaking bullshit’) it mocks all preceding theatre conventions by making the reveal simply ludicrous. The words are so much more than the action, and Jo Crilly and Barbara Woods handle the hyperbolic script with aplomb.

Nothing really happens, which makes the exaggerated use of lighting and music all the more amusing. Imagine if speechwriters approached an everyday event with the tri-colon factor (as popularised by Barack Obama’s acceptance speech) – ‘the opportunity missed: the hand not shaken: the back unscratched’.

If I Said You Have a Heavenly Body (written by Andre Surridge; directed by Rodney Bane) wraps up the programme. The fact that it begins with ‘Oh for the wings of a dove’ – Hitler’s favourite song – makes it hard to shake the Teutonic connotations. Angela (Sophia Elisabeth) lacks humour but loves surveillance and bureaucracy which only heightens the similarities.

She guards the pearly gates and interrogates John (Todd Rippon) when he finds himself there unexpectedly; he thought he was going down below, but admittance standards have been lowered. Although in heaven women outnumber men seven to one, the fact that there is no smoking, drinking, sport or gambling makes ‘the other place’ look increasingly desirable.

The direction is fine (although when will we get over the fact that dishabille in itself is not especially funny?) but the script is a little obvious and stilted. The actors do their best, but they look like they are keen to get it over with towards the end of the skit.

Summer Shorts is an entertaining selection of vignettes with varied themes and a high calibre of acting. Midweek in December is a hard slot to fill, with all the other demands on time and money, especially as the season only lasts for four nights. Although the meat of this show is decidedly in the middle, it would be a more enjoyable night’s entertainment than many an office party meal.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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Top-rate performances as Backyard Shorts air again

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 12th Dec 2008

After having had successful try outs at Mighty Might’s Six O’clock Swill, Backyard Productions have now taken some of the short plays seen there and are giving them a second airing at the Gryphon Theatre.

A diverse, eclectic even, mix of styles and genre the four plays, plus a new one added, make up a fascinating evening’s entertainment.  Each play is no more than 10 minutes long, the writing of all but the last succinct, and terse, and the performances in each top rate. The settings are simple to the point of being sparse but this is made up for by a well designed lighting plot. 

Sam Fishers Fault shows the break down of a relationship from first the man’s perspective and then the women’s.  Insightful and telling, the four actors, Nick Zwart, Kate Clarkin, Rose Guise and Paul Waggott, under the direction of Bex Weatherhead, all create real and believable characters that show the raw edge of human emotion. 

The Intervention by American playwright Jeff Whitty is typically American but entertaining nevertheless.  A surprise birthday party for Tom (Nathan Green) goes horribly wrong when he reacts in a way that his friends, played by Phil Darkins, Walter McGinnis, Sara Velasques and Jo Crilly didn’t expect him to.  The cutting edge dialogue is well realised by the actors who, under the direction of Vivien Bell, give energised performances that epitomize the all-American sit-com. 

Breaking and Entering, written and directed by Dean Hewison is a light weight but delightfully funny play made more so by the performances of the two burglars Robbie (Simon Smith) and Cole (Jonny Potts).  Their attempte at house breaking goes horribly awry when the owners (Barry Lakeman and Marjorie McKee) arrive home unexpectedly.  But the outcome of being caught in the act is  not what one would expect.   

American playwright David Mamet has become famous for writing plays with terse, raw dialogue that is often very masculine, commonly now known as "Mamet speak". Fred Stoppel has very cleverly turned this around in his play The Mamet Women where women use "Mamet speak".  Sally (Jo Crilly) needs a baby sitter while she attends a meeting.  Polly (Barbara Woods) is available but at a price.  Under director Phil Darkins the two actors make much of the dialogue – fast and terse, and often very funny – as they banter and argue with great professionalism. 

The final play of the evening is a protracted piece about John (Todd Rippon) trying to get into heaven after a heart attack but being put through the third degree by a bureaucratic angel Angela (Sohpia Elisabeth).  Not till the end does the play begin to work but the actors, under Rodney Bane’s direction, successfully make as much of the dialogue as they can.


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