Director: Cate Clelland Costume design: Fiona LeachSet Design: Cate Clellan Lighting Design: Hamish McConchie
Sound Design: Tracey Rice Presented by Free-Rain Theatre Company
Courtyard Studio at Canberra Theatre Centre until 2nd November, 2014
Reviewed by Bill Stephens
This searing tragi-comedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracey Letts dissects the disintegration of a family following the death of the family patriach, Beverley Weston.
Beverley Weston (David Bennett) is the first character we meet in the opening scene. Once a famous poet and academic, he is now an alcoholic and, we learn later, a philanderer. He lives in a sprawling house outside Pawhuska, Oklahoma, with his wife, Violet (Karen Vickery), who is stricken with mouth-cancer, and addicted to prescription drugs.
In the opening scene we find Beverley Weston in the process of employing a young Cheyenne woman, Johnna, (Linda Chen) to work as a live-in housekeeper and to care for him and Violet.
That’s the last we see of Beverley Weston, because in the very next scene – which takes place a week later - we learn that Beverley has disappeared, and some of his family are meeting at the house to support Violet while the search goes on. Among them, Matty Fay (Elizabeth Bradley), Violet’s extraordinarily insensitive, motor-mouthed sister, and Matty Fay’s ever-amiable husband, Charlie (Michael Sparks). Violet’s eldest daughter, the spiky, potty-mouthed, Barbara (Andrea Close) arrives with her husband, Bill, (Jim Adamik) and their fourteen year-old daughter, Jean ( Amy Campbell), and the emotional temperature begins to climb.When the news arrives via the local Sheriff (Brian Kavanagh), that Beverley is dead, the rest of the family turn up for the funeral, and the funeral dinner. Then the blood-letting begins in earnest. For this family, which now includes Violet’s other two daughters, Ivy, (Lainie Hart) and Karen (Rose Braybook) as well as Karen’s new fiancé, Steve (Paul Jackson), and Matty Fay and Charlie’s son, Little Charles (Ethan Thomas) are not backward in expressing themselves, and Tracey Letts’ incisive, compelling dialogue, gives them exactly the right ammunition with which to verbally flagellate each other.
Both Karen Vickery as Violet, and Andrea Close as her eldest daughter, Barbara, give performances of astonishing intensity. Perfectly matched as adversaries, their scenes together are hypnotic as they relentlessly chew at each other, knowing exactly how to inflict the maximum emotional pain.
Even though we see him only in the prologue, David Bennett’s presence as Beverley Weston, permeates the entire play. All of the other characters are perfectly cast, so that the ensemble scenes crackle with undercurrents and back stories, all of which are revealed with surgeon- like precision as the play progresses.
Director, Cathy Clelland has found her forte with this type of play, which in many ways recalls her memorable production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe”. Her ant-farm inspired set, which allows the audience to see the characters simultaneously going about their business in other areas of the rambling house, works particularly well in providing interesting acting spaces.
As yet she hasn’t mastered the art of devising interesting entrances and exits. Simply having the characters walk into position in half-light, and then begin acting, is hardly magical. But she certainly knows what to do with her actors once they are on stage.
Free Rain Theatre has much to be proud of with this outstanding production which provides a splendid showcase for an ensemble of Canberra’s finest actors.
This review appears on the Australian Arts Review website.