Thursday, December 10, 2009

A 21st century mystery play: B.C. by Rita Kalnejais

Since Carl asked ever so nicely, here's my Herald Sun review, which was published Monday.

The only problem with “do what you wanna do, be what you wanna be” as a way of life is that it assumes a base level of goodness and maturity. What if all you want to do is kill living things, eat fried chicken and add to your collection of dead birds, like Gabriel (Dylan Young)? Or have sex with your 15 year-old daughter, like the creepy Joachim (Tyler Coppin)?

There’s no moral compass in the world that Rita Kalnejais creates in her play B.C. Many of the adults -- and at least one of the children -- are emotional and ethical ‘retards’. The childless Elizabeth (Yesse Spence) can’t distinguish her desire to have a baby from her desire to have a boy... sexually.

These godless people, unwittingly, are about to sire a messiah. And, boy, do they need one! Mary (Nicole da Silva) is knocked up by a birdman then falls for Giuseppe in trackie dacks (Ashley Zukerman). They don’t slouch towards Bethlehem, they wait for the bus.

Kalnejais’ plot is as messy and unruly -- and as adorable -- as real life. But there are great depths to her script.

Director Simon Stone writes that B.C. is a play about small moments of grace. It’s unclear if he’s aware that the matriarch in this play, Anne, the mother of Mary, takes her name from the Hebrew word for grace: Hannah. But I’m pretty sure the playwright would know.

She might be young -- B.C. is her first play -- but Kalnejais uses Christian (and Islamic) mythology in much the same way that Yeats used Greek mythology in his poem Leda and the Swan, in which the Queen of Sparta gets raped by Zeus disguised as a swan.

But in the space of half a lifetime, the stuff that we all knew -- as a culture, as a people -- is now arcane. And archaic. Known by few. A mystery to most.

I doubt, nowadays, that many hard-core Christians would know that Joachim and Anne were the grandparents of Jesus. Or that Elizabeth (Anne’s sister in the gospel, her niece in Islamic theology) and Mary fell pregnant at the same time. Nor, really, is that knowledge required to enjoy the play.

Bent as it is, B.C. is a touching and miraculous play. A 21st century mystery play. And Simon Stone’s production matches is, beat for beat, in genius, detail and barmy wide-eyed wonder.

B.C. by Rita Kalnejais. Directed by Simon Stone. Designed by Claude Marcos. Sound design by Stefan Gregory. Lighting design consultant: Kimberly Kwa. The Hayloft Project. Presented by FULL TILT at the Arts Centre. Black Box until December 19.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Jeff Busby: (double) cream on the whiskers

The estimable Andrew Haydon (of Postcards from the Gods fame) recently lamented "the sorry state of stage photography" at the Guardian theatre blog just as I was considering a brief post on the stratospheric quality of Jeff Busby's recent work here.

What I say doesn't necessarily contradict Haydon. Maybe it's always been this way: freak individuals (Branco Gaica is another) who bring something very special to the proverbial table.

Now, it's pretty clear to me that of all the performing arts, dance is the one that really does it for Busby. (As a sometime photographer, I know what fearless and self-aware models dancers make.) I also happen to think that of all Busby's dance photographs, the work he's done for the the Dance School of the VCA -- over many years (check out Moving Generations: celebrating 30 years of VCA Dance) -- is the double cream.

(Photograph: Jeff Busby, click on the image to enlarge)

But he has really excelled himself in the pics he took for the recent graduate season. He goes far beyond mere documentation of the works. I looked at the photograph above, for example, and I reckoned I had a pretty fair idea of what the piece was gonna be like. He captures the rampant energy, the rhythm and the crucially important tonality of the design.

I was already booked in to see the show, but the photographs made me all the keener. Ditto the following image.

If you've got the time, do a google image search or search through this blog for Busby's work. His non-production work for Axeman Lullaby by Balletlab (of which he is a board member) is here.

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