by Colin Talbot
A play by Morgan Rose
@ Red Stitch until December 15
It wasn’t until I’d returned home after seeing this play that I got the central issue. And I had to be told by the friend I’d attended the play with.
‘No,’ I said. ‘Where was that? Who told us that?’
‘All the signs were there,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ she sniffed. ‘If you cared to look.’
I went to the program notes. Yes, all the signs were there. If you read the program notes before hand which I do not. Spoiler Alert… no, I don’t mean I’m about to give the plot away – well not much anyway – I mean I like to see a play tabula rasa – a clean slate. So Spoiler Alert, because the program notes told us stuff about the play. Yes, Xan (played by Eva Seymour) is a closet gay. Gee, I didn’t get that. I guess it was there if you took every single thing in. I thought back to the play. Again. I saw a few hints here and there. But really, without the program notes could the audience have known this? I’m not too sure. Anyway, let’s be super dooper troopers. On with the show.
Somewhere in a little nowhere town in a little nowhere area – as the title suggests, a desert – a little family is doing and living day-to-day. It’s not a total desert because mobile reception is okay and TV reception is okay and there’s a pub nearby with karaoke. You got your basics covered. And the audience gets to spy on the dinners and TV watching and the little idiosyncratica that make up lives. Someone has died jumping from an overpass bridge we are told. Jo, a Lesbian, so we are told.. Xan has shaved/cut her hair because lesbians have short hair. Oh, is that so? Okay. Fact was, when that suicide was invoked, I thought of another Jo, Billie Joe McAllister jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge in that famous song of long ago but not so long, ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ by Bobbie Gentry, a 1967 hit. Then it was about, I presume, a child out of wedlock (as they used to say) but here we presume it was the rejection of Jo’s sexuality (and 38% of voters in the recent voters’ letter poll don’t want same-sex marriage so there is social tension out there). Xan’s brother Jamie is an X-Box loving yobbo (played by Darcy Kent) who has just entered a relationship, and he hasn’t had many (girls that is, let alone relationships) and her father Rico (played by Joe Petruzzi) is a happy-go-lucky bloke with a shameful secret (in the eyes of those easily ashamed by others’ passions) and the mother Crystal (played by Sarah Sutherland) completes the nuclear family with her penchant for dubious anti-ageing product… and there’s Jamie’s friend, played by Ella Caldwell, dropping in to stir the sit-com plot. For Desert 6.29pm is a kind of sit-com, built around Xan’s troubled angsty aaarrrggh teenage mania, her manic depression, which builds through the 90-minutes (no interval, so get yer ya ya’s out before you take your seat) to the confusion of her family. The plot (I suppose I can call it a plot, but to say ‘I suppose I can call it a plot’, could sound a bit catty but it is not the intention here) meanders towards a conclusion but like an early 70s piece of downbeat cinema, or indeed like decades of Aussie movies, there is no conclusion. The revelations of this little family in their cultural desert just ends. Blackout Good night. In many ways it doesn’t matter. The loves of most of the family will not change, we can see that, it’s only the Joan of Arc-ish passion of Xan which cannot be resolved in the time-frame, will probably not be resolved, unless a lot of Lacanian Pyschoanalysis or the latest brainpain modifiers beloved by the Prozac Nations enable Xan to see into herself, or to be numbed into submission.
If it should seem that I found this piece of theatre not up to scratch, we would have a failure to communicate, down to this reviewer. I found it enjoyable, albeit slightly mysterious either in its inability to compose itself toward a suitable ending, or its success in disguising itself as something Other as it sped to its dead-end ending. The lives of a bunch of average Aussies, out of the Big Smoke, but not Beyond the Black Stump. No, I quite liked Desert 6.29pm, its range of performances fitting well with each other, with the exception of Xan who carried the invisible thread to the end, so has an extra thankyou curtain call – and one presumes Director Bridget Balodis gave this ensemble a united path through the piece for it’s an intimate theatre space and the performances use the face and the body well, like in TV sit-coms… but not in a hack OTT way.
The writer of this play, Morgan Rose had this modestly effective theatre piece workshopped through Red Stitch’s Mentor Program. More Power to that.
By Morgan Rose
Directed by Bridget Balodis
In association with Maureen & Tony Wheeler and The City of Port Phillip
14 November – 14 December (previews 14 – 21 November)
Approximately 90 minutes without an interval.
Featuring Ella Caldwell, Joe Petruzzi, Eva Seymour, Sarah Sutherland and Darcy Kent.
Dramaturge Tom Healey
Set and Costume Design Romanie Harper
Lighting Design Amelia Lever-Davidson
Composition and Sound Design Ian Moorhead
Stage Manager Genevieve Davidson