Love Song by John Kolvenbach. Centrepiece Theatre directed by Jordan Best at The Q, Queanbyean Performing Arts Centre, October 5-9 and 12-15, 2011.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
My evening began with a rather boring and certainly unsophisticated presentation of the Canberra Theatre Centre’s program for 2012. That doesn’t mean that the program contains no shows of interest. Just the unfunny ‘humour’ of the on-stage presenters between talking heads videos was terribly anti-dramatic, in unfortunate contrast, I should say, to the excellent modern dance item by Charmene Yap and Richard Cilli from Sydney Dance Company. Even the aria and duet from Don Giovanni, though sung quite well, were not staged or acted to the standard one might expect for this theatre.
The 2012 season is an eclectic and quite varied set of ‘Collected Works’ which you can check out at canberratheatrecentre.com.au/season2012 .
What a relief, then, to dash over to Queanbeyan for Love Song. Jordan Best’s Centrepiece Theatre have done good work since their inception six years ago, and have become one of the region’s reliably worthwhile small independent companies. The Q stage, also small and worthwhile, with good sightlines and acoustics, was a nice choice of venue for this production.
Direction and design are right for this play, and all the actors – Tim Sekuless as Beane, Jenna Roberts as his sister Joan, Jim Adamik as her husband Harry and Sophie Benassi as Beane’s ‘lover’ Molly – have captured the absurdity of the situation, timed the comedy very well and created a genuine sense of empathy at the right moments.
The tricky thing about this play is that it can easily appear that Beane represents a realistic character with a mental illness. Some reviewers of other productions seem to assume this, but what is his illness? Is it an extreme form of autism? No, autistic people are normally rational, despite their problems with making social connections. Is it depression? It certainly seems bi-polar, but Beane’s kind of fantasy is out of place. Is it schizophrenia, since Beane seems to have illusions which seem real to him? Perhaps. But in the end this play is not derived from the author’s research into actual mental health states.
His characters are metaphors for types of people. The play is a purely fictional dramatic construct, designed to make us think about ourselves in comparison to his characters. It seems a very modern play (first produced in 2006) but the technology, the language and the jobs characters have are merely superstructure.
Beane represents no more than a character who is unable to understand the world he lives in, and creates a fantasy (Molly) of sexual success. Only when he comes to recognise what he has done does he begin to come to terms with reality. This is Hamlet – though Ophelia is real, it is her role as his fantasy which he has to come to terms with: a tragedy because she really dies before he reaches understanding. Kolvenbach plays something of a game with us by making Molly appear to be real to us, as well as to Beane, and she appears to us to really leave him at the point of his realisation that she is no more than his fantasy. This makes for a happy ending – making the play a comedy.
Because the play is an imaginary construct, the production needs to make that clear to us. The provenance of this play is more like the absurdism of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros or Beckett’s Waiting for Godot than even Albee’s The Zoo Story which at first sight it seems to be similar to. On the other hand all these authors were much more stringent, and never produced a neat OK conclusion like Kolvenbach, where Joan and Harry find love while Beane finds himself. Nor did Shakespeare. Maybe Kolvenbach has not honestly come to terms with the reality of the human condition.
Yet, despite Kolvenbach not being quite the great playwright, Jordan Best and her team have done his script proud. In fact they have made the play seem better than it is. What that says about coming to terms with reality, I’ll leave to you, the reader and hopefully the viewer of Love Song at The Q.