Written by Emma Gibson
Directed by Karla Conway
Presented by The Street and Canberra Youth Theatre
The Street Theatre, Canberra 3 – 12 April 2014
Reviewed by Bill Stephens
This third play by Emma Gibson and presented at The Street Theatre following Love Cupboard (2010) and Widowbird (2012), is a potent demonstration of her growing confidence and ability to present complex themes in an accessible and absorbing way.Drawing inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid and The Red Shoes, Gibson uses just one character in Johnny Castellano is Mine to trace the surreal and compelling journey of self-absorbed teenager, Alice, who falls desperately in love with the school dreamboat, Johnny Castellano. Alice’s love is reciprocated by Castellano, but the relationship is forbidden by her father. The devastated Alice’s response when she discovers Castellano making love with her best friend Gretchen sets her on a path to an inexorably horrific climax.
Throughout the play Gibson tantalises her audience by deliberately obscuring time and place as the story unfolds, exploring issues of racial intolerance, self-harm, and obsession to trace the aftermath of Alice’s destructive and powerful love.
Central to the success of the play is a tour-de-force performance of mesmerising intensity by Alison Plevey. As Alice, Plevey’s performance takes place in an abstract environment of shiny black surfaces, lit by stark white fluorescent tubes. On stage for the entire performance, Plevey constantly moves around, over and through Samantha Pickering’s impressive setting, quickly establishing contact with her audience and holding it until the very end when she quietly disappears into the darkness. Despite being required to execute physically demanding moves, even performing upside down at one point, Plevey delivers her lines throughout with admirable clarity and purpose.
Karla Conway’s direction of the play is inspired. Cleverly taking advantage of Plevey’s prodigious dance skills to allude to Alice’s fluctuating mood swings, Conway creates a disturbing rhythm to the performance through the use of constant black-outs which differentiate the various sequences. The effect is both unnerving and fascinating.
This production of Johnny Castellano is Mine is an outstanding demonstration of the value of the Street Theatre’s Hive program, curated by Caroline Stacey, in identifying and nurturing young emerging Canberra creatives , and an auspicious first collaboration between The Street Theatre and Canberra Youth Theatre.
This review appears in Australian Arts Review www.artsreview.com.au