>3 CHORDS AND THE TRUTH by Peel Arts

>reviewed by matthew lyon

>date: 25 may 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the drama centre
>rating: *

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

                           
>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.
 

>>>>>THE TRUTH ISN'T OUT THERE

How do these "Four Short Plays in One Evening" things come about? The individual playlets seldom have much in common thematically and there is rarely much artistic reason for them to band together as they do. Perhaps it's simply a law of nature: "When the number of Short Plays equals Three or Four, they transubstantiate into an Evening". Think of all those poor short plays with no friends sitting neglected on a shelf somewhere, waiting to achieve critical mass. Or, all too often, a critical mess.

3 CHORDS AND THE TRUTH from new company, Peel Arts, showcases the efforts of playwrights Pua En and Eleanor Tan, and it was one of Pua En's, entitled 'Ring, Wings and Other Things', which opened. The central conceit was really quite cute: three recently dead men find themselves in some sort of limbo. Something has obviously gone wrong as, instead of being all decked out in heavenly apparel, they only have two wings and a halo between them. They then fight, Three Stooges style for a while over who gets what, before recounting how they died and coming to some kind of peace with each other. There is a lot of potential for comedy in the absurdity of this scenario, and equal potential for pathos in its subject. It's a shame that neither was realized. The first part of the play relied largely on slapstick, and this is much more difficult than it looks. It requires sharp timing and a certain sense of physical realism and weight. What we got instead was a truly primary school level of physicality where lightly tapping someone resulted in them flying across the stage, whereas ramming into them budged them not one jot: it all looked ridiculous - in a bad way. Vocally, the actors were doing their best, but it wasn't enough to inject any interest into a script that didn't have any characters to speak of, wasn't funny or moving and, after its initial premise, soon stopped being original. It was just boring, and in theatre that's the one thing you're not allowed to be. Unfortunately it wasn't alone.

>>'This collection is a first-time effort from Peel Arts, and I suppose some slack should be cut for that reason, but you expect at least to see potential'

'Bette Davis' Eyes' by Eleanor Tan told the story of a woman who wasn't quite named after the famous film star and who didn't have her eyes. It began with the fact of her death, showing us a monologue each from her daughter and husband respectively, before moving into a flashback of Betty as a young woman and finally a little scene at her funeral to tie up all the loose ends. Of the actors in this one, Benson Ang gave best value for money. Playing well above his age as the widowed husband, he got more from his character than the two women, and showed knowledge of how to work his audience and how to get a lot from a limited script. And the script for all parts of 'Bette Davis' Eyes' was very limited. For a short play it managed an awful lot of repetition of one or two basic points and didn't really have a lot else to say. We heard that the husband had had an affair he regretted, that the daughter found her mother controlling but forgave her for it and that Bette herself had sold out on her ideals and settled for mediocre domesticity. This is derivative stuff, and when it's hammered at you with no nuance or subtlety it can be difficult to digest. A couple of memorable lines or novel ideas might have saved it to some extent, but unfortunately there just weren't any.

This was not quite true of the next play, 'While Stocks Last!' by Pua En again. It was a spoof of the recent Hello Kitty queuing debacle: there's only one highly desirable soft toy left at the fast food franchise - which of the four hopefuls outside should be allowed to have it? Here at least the cast looked like they wanted to be on stage and there were one or two laugh-out-loud jokes. The play was perhaps a little indulgent in places but it was always watchable and one of the actresses in particular stood out. And here's the difficulty: which one? You see the programme was printed in orange (Peel Arts, geddit?) and while you could just about read the words - replete with spelling and grammar mistakes - you couldn't quite make out the pictures. So I think I should be mentioning Jacintha Charles for her excellent comic timing and expressive face, but I wouldn't bet on it. It doesn't help that her real face was obscured by the most hideous make-up - ditch the kiddie crayons, guys.

'While Stocks Last!' may have been the only out-and-out comedy in the programme, but it was by no means the funniest. That unwanted honour fell upon the last play, 'Stain', by Tan again. A melodrama in every line, it made 'The Ride Home' look subtle as it recounted the saga of two ex-lovers meeting by chance in Melbourne. Now the thing is, it's autumn in Australia. There's a chill breeze and, outside a romantic little café, the leaves are falling from the trees. Very, very fast. You see, there were little gadgets stuck up in the lighting rig which dropped things onto the stage. This had proved a bad idea in the first play, when one of them had fallen, unprovoked, onto the stage, providing the most interesting moment yet; and in this final play, the gadgets resurfaced. I wasn't the only one who fell into a fit of giggles when bunches of twenty or so leaves plummeted to the stage, a seeming gift from the Great Leaf-Hurler in the Sky, and hard enough to dent the surface. I would have laughed anyway, though. The delivery was so earnest and the dialogue so hopelessly clichéd that it was impossible not to; and the poor actors, despite speaking nicely, just didn't have the chemistry which might have made some of it believable - you could have driven a bus between them in their romantic clinch.

This collection is a first-time effort from Peel Arts, and I suppose some slack should be cut for that reason, but you expect at least to see potential. As it turned out, the Three Chords of the title were very minor and the Truth is, there was nothing to recommend it.