Manderson-Galvin’s writing soars

— REVIEW of Double Feature | Herald Sun

Double Feature | Reviews

Lucky +
Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise

Byron Bache | Herald Sun
May 20, 2015
Two Stars

G.K. Chesterton said that “art, like morality, consists of drawing a line somewhere”. In both arenas, MKA’s ambitious double bill doesn’t quite puts pencil to paper.

The first play, Tobias Manderson-Galvin’s Lucky, is a sort-of dissection of our colonial history. Three convicts from the fictional-but-not-that-fictional New Albion commandeer a boat and head for England. Or the fictional country of Batavia. Or England. It’s never that clear.

Manderson-Galvin has a habit of telling what he should show and showing what he should tell, and so an awful lot of dramaturgical water is tread.

Which is not to say that Lucky is a bad play; it’s just several drafts away from being ready for the stage. And though director John Kachoyan has done what he can with his deft touch and solid instincts, the water damage is impossible to conceal.

As the title character, a priest nicknamed “Lucky” after the Bible in his pocket stopped a bullet, Johnny Carr broods and paces, employing an “Irish” accent that’s non-specific and confused.

Devon Lang Wilton is Rose, a possibly Welsh, possibly Mancunian, possibly Novocastrian woman (her accent boldly traverses the whole of Great Britain) transported for stealing lace or slitting throats, depending on which of her stories you believe.

As an indigenous man driven off his land, Mathew Cooper is stuck as the awkward mouthpiece for a lot of subtextual white guilt.

All three bicker and bore in equal measure as the boat seems to go nowhere at all. They are no freer without their chains than they were with them. Maybe that’s the point, but it’s all so dramatically inert that it bores much more than it ever beguiles.

The reprieve, though, comes in the occasional interjecting present-day monologues that happen off the boat. Manderson-Galvin’s writing soars and the three actors take full flight in an incredible riff on the under-appreciated (and seemingly underhanded) profession of piano moving, a school principal’s coming-apart-at-the-seams introduction at the opening of a reconciliation garden, and a speech by the New Albion Minister for Digging Holes.

Lucky shares a certain sensibility with the second play of the evening, Morgan Rose’s Lord Willing & The Creek Don’t Rise — it’s no closer to being ready for an audience and it’s undermined by a writer who knows what she wants to say, but can’t find the right way to say it. And so she spends 68 minutes writing around it and two minutes smearing it all over your face.

It’s set in an unnamed town devastated by floods and power outages, everything covered in a layer of mud, broken or dead.

Suzy (Morgan Maguire) and Earl (Kevin Kiernan-Molloy) are the kind of bickering bogans you see screaming at each other on train platforms. They fight over which takeaway to get for dinner. They accuse each other of imagined infidelities. Mostly, nothing happens. At one point, Maguire stands in a barrel for several minutes. There’s a kind of blunt objectivity about both performances; they’re simultaneously impressive and inaccessible.

Director Kat Henry has built deliberate disconnections into the relationships in this wasteland and it feels like the wrong choice. You feel neither empathy nor pity.

As the elderly neighbour Miss Claire, Jan Friedl steals the show. Her timing is perfect, her glances are golden, and she conjures a startlingly real figure of small-town neglect and loneliness. To be fair, she’s also working with better writing than the other actors.

Like Lucky, this is several drafts away from finished. Unlike Lucky, it might never get there.

Rose wrote the play after reading a news story about a disturbingly grisly murder-suicide, a version of which is tacked on, coda-like, in lieu of a denouement.

Absent any actual tension, Rose’s bizarre unforeshadowed ending does nothing to fill the story vacuum that’s been there since the opening lines.

Rose’s writing is elegant, observant and often incredibly funny. But it’s a little like cooking a meal; just because you made a nice sauce doesn’t mean we’ll forgive the fact you forgot to cook the pasta.

Alone, these plays are minor missteps. Together, they feel like a disaster. MKA have done better work than this, and they’ll do better again.

“Manderson-Galvin’s writing soars…”