WOMAN: A COLLECTION OF ABSURDIST MONOLOGUES
23/10/2013 - 26/10/2013
UNIQUE THEATRE COLLABORATION BRINGS BURIED
FEMALE VOICES TO THE STAGE
20 actresses; 17 original scripts; one name. I’m Not Content Productions is bringing some of NZ’s most exciting creative talent to the stage in WOMAN: A Collection of Absurdist Monologues at the Musgrove Studio this October.
Over 60 scripts were submitted with 17 being selected for presentation in this unique theatrical collaboration. Writers were armed only with the direction to feature a character known as ‘Woman’ and some aspect of the absurdist theatre genre popularised by celebrated playwright Samuel Beckett. The result is an evening of exciting, electric, and emotional monologues written and performed by some of NZ’s best talent.
The massive cast of 20 includes; graduates of Toi Whakaari and UNITEC drama schools; fixtures of Auckland’s most popular stages; TV regulars Courtney Abbot (TV2’s Girl vs. Boy), Romy Hooper and Jess Holly Bates (Nothing Trivial), Denise Snoad (Underbelly and Shortland Street) and Helena McAlpine (former C4 presenter and notable voice artist); as well as celebrated screen actress Lisa Harrow (regular member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Best Actress recipient at the Independent Spirit Awards and the Australian Film Institute).
The project, the brainchild of directors and INC founders Kat Glass and Ashton Brown, resulted from their desire to bring unique and original kiwi theatre to Auckland audiences; to provide opportunities for local professional talent; and to showcase a voice that is not often heard in theatre by placing the female of the species front-and-centre in the role of existential philosopher. Glass says “You don’t often see a female character on stage or screen that isn’t defined relationally, as ‘the girlfriend’, or ‘the best friend’, etc. By choosing to produce monologues we get to showcase a voice we rarely see in art – a woman standing alone, without the limitations of traditional theatrical context or relational definitions, and hear what she has to say for herself. Absurdism seemed like the perfect backdrop.” That said, she says that “not all of the pieces follow a text book definition of the genre. These are definitely still accessible and relatable scripts, and they are all intriguing, powerful, beautiful, and strange.”
The show also deals with a range of themes, not limited to the female experience, so “no this definitely isn’t The Vagina Monologues!” Rather than attempting to define the female identity or experience in one sweeping evening of theatre, these are 17 texts that simply allow us to explore voices that are often buried by the subplots and limited scene time of traditional theatre. These are the voices of funny, powerful, articulate, philosophic women. These are voices all of us should hear.
WOMAN opens this October at the Musgrove Studio for a limited 4 night season –
23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th.
Show starts at 7pm nightly and runs for 120 minutes including intermission.
Bookings can be made at www.maidment.auckland.ac.nz or (09) 308 2383 (A transaction fee may apply).
Tickets $15 for students (or groups of 5+), $20 for adults.
Theatre , Monologue ,
2hrs incl. interval
Engaging, impressive, enriching marathon
Review by Nik Smythe 24th Oct 2013
This collection of (mostly) one-person monologues is the culmination of what must have been a mammoth process that began with a call for playwrights to submit absurdist monologues with a central character called ‘Woman’. The resulting plays are reasonably eclectic in content and attitude, yet share the common thread as imposed upon them by the project’s outline.
These seventeen selected samples are performed entirely by women, ranging from quite young to considerably less so, and are also mainly but not entirely written by women. While not all ‘issues-driven’, gender-role issues are a seemingly inevitable component for each piece, and varying degrees and styles of humour are utilised in most of them.
Each monologue is played out on, or around, the two set areas on stage (designed by co-director Kat Glass) which share tatty wallpaper and old rugs, old books, vintage furniture, framed pictures stacked against the walls, lamps, shelves and other bric-a-brac: a fitting analogy for the dusty clutter that furnishes the inner minds and selves of anyone, woman or otherwise.
For a brief, hit-the-ground-running opener, Dali’s Womb by Janet Colson features Lisa Fothergill regaling with some delight a dream she’s had that’s as Freudian as they come, starring her as a giant womb and thousands of agog penises.
Finnius Teppett’s AKLD Blues stars Denise Snoad as an obnoxious racist drunk, ranting about soft-dick boyfriends and generally showing the worst side of social humanity, female or otherwise. Already the recurring theme of woman as victims (or not) of society’s judgments is established, and this is not the last one to imply the concept’s potential to be hypocritical, if not a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In Piecemeal by Sara Watson, Romy Hooper’s tragic protagonist makes a huge drama out of being unwillingly double-booked on a Friday night. Her self-centred lack of grace matched only by her belligerence, this is one victim of urban stress who probably really ought to go bush and chill out.
In timely contrast, Butterfly is a refreshingly serene philosophical enquiry, poetically written by Renee Boyer-Willison, in which a cheerful young lass (Alice Pierce) ponders the question of whether our dreams might be real, and this the dream?
In It’s Her by Alex Lodge, Caroline Muller-Ward shows clear symptoms of postpartum depression as she struggles to cope with parenting her newborn son. When her murderous great-grandmother appears in a vision with appallingly extreme advice, the fledgling mum faces a choice between self-indulgence and responsibility.
Playwright Benjamin Teh’s literal, pedestrian approach to the project’s brief perversely results in one of the most bizarre, if not truly absurdist pieces in Man to Woman. Aimee Olivia plays the originally male author, describing the outrageous and hilarious process by which he made himself female for the purposes of writing his woman-themed play.
Again contrasting with its dramatic starkness, in Sparks to Stars by Stephanie R Christian, Helena McAlpine makes some poignant observations as she grieves over the embalmed body of an unspecified loved one. It’s more about life and death than women as such, but nonetheless pithy and endearing.
Rounding off ‘Act One’, Jess Holly-Bates gate-crashes the party in Reunion Party (written by co-director Ashton Brown), neurotically recounting the ‘facts’ as she sees them, once again based on the judgments she perceives are bestowed upon her by a cruel, compassionless society. Her counterpart Courtney Abbot then rises to challenge her ‘rules’, tacitly beginning with the one about how many people perform a monologue; actually, I gather the two are personifications of one person’s internal conflict, but that conclusion requires a little assumption on top of the evidence provided.
Following a well-earned interval, ‘Act Two’ opens with Marisa Breytenbach’s Really Gross: An Original Story About Olives, in which Amanda Grace Leo continually distracts herself as she attempts to spin a yarn to illustrate how gross olives are, lit by nothing but the torch she holds in school-camp ghost-story fashion.
Co-director Kat Glass stars in They Call Me Woman by Samantha Lee, as a strong Amazonian woman in chains offering her own insights on dominance vs submission; conforming vs not. The subtly striking piece indirectly raises the question of just how much of her (our) personalities are affected by society’s expectations, and at what point this may become unhealthy.
Marisa Breytenbach’s second short piece, Unfamiliar, again challenges the definition of ‘monologue’ as a succession of women appears (Natasha Ross, Lisa Fothergill & Phoebe Markham), claiming to have only been brought into existence that morning and struggling to reconcile their very existence. I expect we’ve all felt like that some mornings.
Rising Tide by Alex Bonham stars Erin O’Flaherty, caught in a compounded dilemma in which the same day her boyfriend confesses to having an affair resulting in the mistress falling pregnant, she discovers she’s pregnant herself. While without any profoundly original aspect to speak of within the ensuing enquiry and deliberation, there’s enough truth in O’Flaherty’s performance to make it engaging and worthwhile.
In Grace Shelley’s Cal, the briefest and most dream-like scene of the night, Lucy Noonan plays a woman lost in an airport (symbolising a soul lost in humanity?), undecided – among other things – as to whether her search is the colour of blood or dusty winks … Short, weird and charming.
Pippiajna Jane brings definitive physicality to her role in a second offering from the pen of co-director Ashton Brown: I Am Words. Casually reposed in a white shirt and undies, Jane describes her personality with myriad adjectives and analogies – a cerebrally appealing dance-poem from a self-professed “forgotten philosopher”.
Co-director and earlier performer Kat Glass adds a playwright credit next with Right?, in which a sodden Kelly Taylor emerges to presumptuously challenge our presumptions about her, and express confusion about how things should be and what they should mean. Another enigmatic piece where what’s actually going on depends on what you choose to fill the blanks with.
The last two pieces give us more mature standpoints in their own ways. She: The Split Definitive by Hannah Owen-Wright offers another feminine perspective on a definitively human concern. Rachael Longshaw-Park plays a red cardy-clad 50s housewife fixatedly going over her traumatic upbringing in a family dominated by mental health patients, and the degrees of effectiveness of the prescribed “pills and plans” in preventing thoughts from “slipping through their hands and breaking on the ground”.
Finally, in Kate Watson’s Old Woman, local legend herself Lisa Harrow sits sagaciously knitting, evidently glad for the opportunity to tell her side of the scandalous events between her, Jack Horner and that little tramp Miss Muffit back when they lived in her big shoe. Not exactly original in content or satirical tone, it’s a good laugh and the perfect note to end on after such an endurance run.
The overall quality of the performances – none a ‘weak link’ by comparison or otherwise – is testament both to the two directors and to the bright, spirited cast themselves who in many cases clearly bring a lot of themselves into their roles.
Amber Molloy’s lighting design is as eclectic as the pieces and performances themselves; some clear and defining, others soft and moodier, a couple spot lit. The number of different combinations and their respective analogous interpretations is great. I’m further intrigued by the sporadic, mercurial puff of smoke blowing through the stage, seeming to suggest we’re observing dreams, or some other kind of ethereal mind-state.
Many of the women we meet during this theatrical relay-marathon come across as quite obsessive and/or bitter. For some it’s a clearly-intended character trait often exploited to satirical or derogatory effect, but other times I consider that this can be a pitfall of the monologue form. Since there’s only one person on stage, they are bound both to raise the issues at hand and then to respond to them, which at times results in the said impression of bitter obsession.
There are little in the way of what you might call ‘conclusions’ to most of the works; understandable given we’re dealing with numerous topics that have been debated for millennia so far already, with no definitive closure yet in sight.
One of many conversations to arise among the audience might be about how much significance ought to be attributed to the predominant gender of the artists, compared to the significance of the stories they tell in their own right? As with any number of said conversations, it’s unlikely any clear consensus will be reached.
What really matters to an audience is that the work is engaging and/or impressive, and leaves us feeling in some way enriched by the experience. By this yardstick, Woman is a success – and the more remarkable given the three-hour length of the programme.
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