Sunday, May 18, 2014

BLOKES DON'T TALK



BLOKES DON’T TALK by Vince Melton
Bathurst Theatre Company. Something Borrowed Theatre Company and Smith’s Alternative.
Produced by Judith Peterson.
Directed by Tanya Gruber
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


To discover some theatrical gems, it is necessary sometimes to look beyond the surface. Such is the case at Smith’s Alternative, the former bookshop and now alternative theatre venue/bar in Civic. Under the guiding hand of Domenic Mico, Smith’s Alternative is establishing itself as a leading light in providing opportunities for theatre workers and musicians to express themselves, develop their talents and create an intimate ambiance for the creation of new work.
My visits have been too infrequent, but on each occasion I have been impressed by the offerings. What has excited me most has been the emergence of new talent, whether that be a former Daramalan student of Joe Woodward, Tanya Gruber’s production of Edward Albee’s At Home At the Zoo for her newly formed Something Borrowed Theatre Company, musical performances or Vince Melton’s series of short monologues, Blokes Don’t Talk. In Blokes Don’t Talk six men relate the stories of their lives from their perspective. Joseph (Alex Rouse) is a small time crim from the wrong side of the tracks, whose life of crime leads him into trouble and mishap. It is a bleak glimpse of those men who believe that they need to resort to crime to drag themselves from the seeming futility and disadvantage of their lives. Rouse’s monologue could
easily have become the bumbling comedy of the ineffectual criminal, but he lends it a frustration and powerlessness that underlies the trapped circumstance in which he finds himself. There is pathos in his failure.
Maurice Downing’s Dave is an effectively written and beautifully paced and performed account of a man who is the victim of his own lack of awareness of his own actions and the consequences of misplaced priority. As Downing presents Dave’s journey from shearing on the land to working in a factory, from his courtship of his wife Melanie to their breakup and from his secure family home to a small Bachelor flat in Sydney, I see a man in th audience nodding his head in recognition. At one tender moment, his partner places her hand on his as a gesture of consolation. Downing’s performance is engrossing in its plausibility, and disarmingly natural in its performance. Here is a new talent to watch out for in future.
He is not alone. This is in fact a hallmark of this production. New faces emerge on Canberra’s theatre scene, and this play about men for men and women, written simply from stories that Melton has picked up since he first wrote Blokes Don’t Talk in 2000, prior to performances by Bathurst Theatre Company in 2004 and 2008.
Graham August’s monologue by the young father, recounting the experience of the birth of his son, is the shortest of the six but August genuinely captures the dreams of the new father, quickly dissolved by the practical reality of a dirty nappy and the onerous duties of fatherly responsibility. It is a pencil sketch of the experience but works effectively enough to provide a moment’s insight into the contrasting nature of idealism and reality.
Gruber’s decision to avoid the stage and have the monologues delivered from the tables at which the various actors are seated lends the performance an immediacy with each monologue following on immediately from the previous one. I am sitting next to a stranger sporting a black eye. As August flees from the space at the sight of a dirty nappy, Arran McKenna leaps to his feet to present Johnnie, a taxi driver with an over developed libido and a false sense of his own sex appeal. His own sexuality is confronted when he finds himself in an unsettling situation with a beautiful passenger who is not as she appears. Blokes Don’t Talk compels an audience to question convention, stereotype and what it is to be male, and expose the male’s inability to understand or deal with the issues that confuse and confound. McKenna’s Johnnie is expertly portrayed as a man trying to come to terms, not only with his own notions of male sexuality, but also with a questioning of his own responses. I look forward to seeing this actor more often on a Canberra stage.
As I do TW Gibbings, another newcomer to Canberra theatre. His Bobby, a young arrogant, forceful and defiant achiever commands the floor in a riveting performance. His attempts to deal with his brother-in-law’s domestic violence against his sister depicts the passionate belief in sibling loyalty and support. Melton is careful not to simply paint the portrait of the violent husband and the abused wife. He peels away Bobby’s macho fraternal loyalty to reveal the irony that underpins the tragic powerlessness of the female victim of male aggression. Gibbings adeptly shifts status from the self-assured controller to the powerless and confused intervener in the complex circumstance that permeates the issue of domestic violence.
Only Ken Moran’s Military Man seems out of place in a show that deals with contemporary issues and everyday male characters. Melton has included the account of a Gallipoli veteran to reveal male attitudes to mateship and responses to war, which, on the field, is primarily a male domain, exposing male characteristics, conditioning and values. Perhaps a more recent conflict within the context of modern warfare might have been more effective. Moran, the older member of the company, who performed many years ago in The Broken Years, at the Australian War Memorial under the direction f George Whaley, is most suited to delivering this monologue, and he does it naturally enough, with a true sense of sacrifice, waste and loss.
Blokes Don’t Talk speaks to all. It is the voice of experiences of real men, facing the consequences of their actions, their ignorance and their need to be heard and understood. In Gruber’s production, and in the café environment of Smith’s Alternative, it is simple, compelling and unpretentious. Producer, social worker and youth worker, Judith Peterson is presenting this as part of a trilogy of film and theatre that explores attitudes to death in the family and the relationships between couples. The Glue That Holds Us Together and Couples Don't Talk are being presented at Smith’s Alternative over the course of the year, and if this production of Blokes Don’t Talk is anything to go by, audiences can be assured of an experience that is insightful, entertaining and worth a visit to Canberra’s intimate venue and showcase for new works and exciting emerging and established artists

Blokes Don’t Talk
May 23 and 24 at 7 p.m.
Smith’s Alternative
The Glue That Holds Us Together
Tickets available at trybooking.com/83195


Couples Don't Talk

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