Saturday, April 11, 2009

Theatre Preview: Ollie and the Minotaur

Benito Di Fonzo
Sydney Morning Herald, April 9, 2009
Secrets and lies flow when three women get together for a drunken seaside reuinion.

TO WRITE convincing dialogue for his all-female cast, playwright Duncan Graham needed to find a way to get inside the "tribe", as he calls it, of 28-year-old women.
The Adelaide playwright, with director Sarah John, achieved this by setting actresses Adriana Bonaccurso, Wendy Bos and Sarah Brokensha a series of secrets and tiny betrayals to act out on one another.

"'From my point of view it's [a way of] trying to become an insider," Graham says of the process through which he created his critically acclaimed play Ollie And The Minotaur. "We see so many plays about men doing harm to each other that I wanted to explore how women might do this.

"We didn't tell the actresses anything when they came in on day one and started to introduce secrets to them and giving them actions to play, setting up improvisations that gave me a chance to listen to the way they spoke, the way they interacted, the way they dealt with these secrets."

Graham, 34, says this allowed him to understand the three women's interactions more - how they thought, the way they said certain things. Such observations helped bring about Ollie And The Minotaur.

The play tells the story of three female friends at a drunken seaside reunion on the cusp of their "Saturn return". At first, the bitchy poking at one another is all in good fun, bearing a chick-lit innocence to it. Soon, the flow of alcohol calls forth demons from a dark place within their friendship, in particular a secret from their past that occurred - like the mythical Minotaur of the title - in the centre of a local cave. As the play unfolds, the girls are brought back to that dark moment at the centre of their relationship.

"It sneaks up on you, which is great," director John says. "The three women could really bring their experiences and the stories of their friends, then Duncan could really craft it and set up the idea of those masks, so he could set up this Sex And The City world and then slowly reveal these darker themes."

Ollie And The Minotaur, which will have its Sydney debut at Belvoir St Theatre, was hailed in Adelaide and Melbourne as a triumph of naturalism. Along with the dark deprecatory humour in much of the dialogue - "That's one part of the play we can definitely say came from the actors," John laughs - the naturalistic staging is designed to help punters identify with the women as they move towards their own feared self-revelations.

"It does have that faux-doco feel," Graham agrees. "It really invites the audience to be a voyeur and get in the room with the actors and go on the journey and the downstairs space at Belvoir Street is absolutely ideal for that set-up."
John admits there have been defensive reactions from some female audience members about the same age as the protagonists but the real surprise has been how men react to the show.

"Men love it," she says. "Across the board I haven't come across or heard of any response from a guy who hasn't loved it. I think it's
nice to see three young women on stage but also it does provide some insight into this secret life of women."

Just what sorts of secrets were the girls fed in rehearsal? "They were simple ones to begin with, just telling them about their character, and then little bits of information about the other person because the devil's in the three, the interaction of three people, particularly in friendships with women."

So it's a play written through Chinese whispers? "Yeah, it is, almost. What you get is these women hovering around the deeper secret and the way they interact around that deeper secret and the way that secret gets revealed. It becomes a labyrinth of lies, betrayals and deception."

Betrayal, it would seem, is a dish best served with gin and tonic.

Belvoir St Downstairs
25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
17 April 2009 to 3 May 2009
Phone Bookings
(02) 9699 3444
Online Bookings
Previews April 16. See website for performance times.

Stream Of Unconsciousness Book Review - ""Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard""""

Bare-Faced Messiah : The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard Bare-Faced Messiah : The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard by Russell Miller

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the amazing tale of the world's most deluded, and most posthumously successful, con-man and really gets inside the machinations of his strangely mendacious imagination. You almost admire Hubbard as he streams off one ridiculous lie after another from adolescence onwards so as to make his place in the world with his few other talents - a fact he never faces by creating an ever greater history of himself which often you wonder if even he believes. You can see then just how, sporadically between the 1930s and 1950s, he was able to pump out a several thousand word sci-fi, western or fantasy adventure story nightly by just going out to the shed, often accompanied by a bottle of rum to aid his already overactive imagination, and typing away till dawn when the first of his three wives would send it off (inferring he somehow made very few typos or mistakes in 1st drafts) to whichever magazine he left instructions while he slept till 3pm that afternoon when he would wake up, have a big breakfast, perhaps go fishing and drinking with one of his buddies, to whom he would invent more hole-ridden and stupendous lies about his [in reality:] very flawed military record, and then stumble out to the shed and do it all over again. This would make a fantastic film if it wasn't for the fact that the Dianeticians/Scientologists would sue your ass off. I've heard of one British producer who did attempt to get such a project green-lighted in the 1980s only to have the studio chicken out. I would love to make a film just from the chapter in which Hubbard teams up with a black magician in California under the tutelage of an obviously close-to-death Alistair Crowley back in the UK. This Satanic trio rope in red-headed prostitutes to create a "Moon Child", (envisaged as some kind of Black-Magik Jesus with great powers and under their command.) The whole episode ends with Hubbard running off with the warlock's wife and a whole lot of his money which he uses to buy a yacht and sail away from the cops who have him, even back then a good ten years before he invents Dianetics, as a suspect on fraud charges. This echoes his later life in which he is pursued across the world on his large ship The Flying Scot Man (sic) attended by his followers who are thrown overboard if they disobey, and his nubile teenage "messengers." Even to the end, his cover blown in the press when some of his followers, including his third wife, are caught are caught and tried after attempting to destroy all Hubbard's government records, despite the fact that he sent many of them in himself (constantly denouncing his enemies, including his second wife and her suspected lover, as Communists in letters to J. Edgar Hoover throughout the 50s and 60s, causing the FBI to write him off as someone suspected to be highly mentally unstable and not to be trusted in his official file) Hubbard still believed he would persevere, and on the verge of his death created a film production company in the desert, directing the actors himself and sending those who he deemed unworthy of his direction off to his own feared re-education and punishment corps where they were treated as less than human - as opposed to MORE than human as they had been before, i.e. Thetans, but that's a whole other shtick we don't have time or space to get into here. You can discover the rest for yourself by buying the book online as it's apparently out of print for legal reasons in Australia. (I found this hardback US First Edition for only $US20 on Amazon.) Russell Miller is a former journalist for the Sunday Times in England and importantly lends a strong sense of journalistic integrity to his style. Hence while the first couple of chapters concerning the Hubbard family history and LRH as a child may seem a bit dry and superfluous they are there for a reason which becomes readily apparent in both humanising this weird anti-hero with whom it would otherwise be impossible to empathise with, and as exposition for the later ever-increasing action of the story as it really starts to rise, making the majority of the twenty-two chapters an action packed and hilarious ride, made frightening by the obvious veracity of the Russell Miller's well-researched revelations and anecdotes from those who knew and worked with Hubbard throughout his long, strange life.

View all my reviews.