peteg's blog

Catherine Lacey: The Answers.

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Kindle. Read a bit too quickly, and early on I reflexively began to think of this as a literary variation on Soderberg's The Girlfriend Experience, which I haven't seen as it strikes me as uninspired. There are moments, and it is tighter than her debut Nobody is ever missing but could have been tightened by ejecting some superficial and unoriginal material such as that on love at first sight. The male characters are mostly caricatures and stereotypes — where can you go with a religious off-grid father? Surely not Captain Fantastic — and Lacey doesn't feel the need to unpack Mary's maternal relationships too much, beyond observing that Mary doesn't value them until it's too late. The sex is generally unpleasant. Leading man Kurt Sky struck me as a Bret Easton Ellis grotesque, or a riff on Oscar Isaac's character in Ex Machina. (Mary may not have known of these, but Lacey surely does.) The writing is generally fine. The temporal slips and slides are not as smooth as Murray Bail's. I wasn't invested enough to unpack the signs and motifs: Chandra's emails from the light, Ashley's need to bond with Mary, Union Park. Somehow the new age PAKing was a gizmo that worked.

Dwight Garner claimed he got into it but made quota with some dubious quotes. Molly Young asserts that Lacey never describes Mary's appearance, which is not the case. Sarah Ditum is more skeptical.

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I was all ready to jump on the yet-nameless CB400 only to find that someone had stolen the registration plate! The horror, and futility. I have no idea when it happened, but am guessing it was after I got home yesterday. I instead drove over to Randwick in Dave's Bonnie around 1pm, had lunch at Tum's Thai. The RTA will only issue new plates if the theft has been reported to the police, so I visited them in Randwick and was told to call their service centre, which I immediately did. After a dip at Gordons Bay (seemingly colder than last time, perhaps due to it being quite warm out) I headed back to the Bunnings on Frenchmans and got some bolts, washers and shake-proof nuts (about $11). No Service NSW centre with parking was anywhere convenient, so I drove home and then headed up to the one at Central after 5pm. The service was ace, and I got a new plate almost instantly (for about $60). Ouch.

Griffin Theatre: Diving for Pearls by Katherine Thomson.

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With Tigôn, $20 rush tickets, bought before midday (!). She had a Coopers green, I had a too-sweet imported cider. We walked there from Glebe via the Botanic Gardens. The domain travelator was defunct.

This play is about the decline of steady jobs, masculinity, family values, industrial semi-skilled labour, life possibilities and how ill-suited some (or most?) people are to these sharky risk-laden days. Northern Wollongong provides the setting. The leading man (Den, a natural Steve Rodgers) anchors things, aching to be a father as he realises his life hasn't really started and he's fifty. Ursula Yovich fiercely animates Barbara, a woman he knew from long ago who just might be up for something when they meet at a funeral. Jack Finsterer (brother of Anni and married to Justine Clarke) is intense as Ron; there's a sincerity to his performance that is slightly at odds with him being an experienced consultant with little skin in the game. Ebony Vagulans is magnetic and very fine as the daughter, and Michelle Doake owns her scenes as the matronly Marj. The acting was uniformly excellent.

James Browne's set and Benjamin Brockman's lighting made excellent and versatile use of the Griffin's tiny stage. Darren Yap's direction was note perfect.

Tigôn found Barbara too strident, and it is one of the few weak points of Thomson's script that need and hunger are so unsubtly portrayed. Conversely family traditions are brilliantly evoked, as is the fragility of what Den has; I guess he would now be advised to get into bespoke artisan coal trucks. In some ways the themes echo David Williamson's The Club.

Reviews were universally laudatory. Jason Blake. Ben Neutze. Diana Simmonds.

Darlinghurst Theatre: In Real Life by Julian Larnach.

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A freebie from somewhere, 7:30pm, with Dave, my first time at the Eternity Playhouse. (I used to go to Darlinghurst Theatre fairly regularly when they were in Elizabeth Bay.) I had an early dinner and walked over from Glebe on a suboptimal route. It was about 80% full, and mostly grey haired.

Like The Nether, the raw material is not great: this is about the imposition of tech on our lives, the eternal tropes of the younger gen versus the older (and specifically mother and daughter dynamics/histrionics), conservatism that creeps with age, the realisation of the vacuity of a life's work, healing via alcoholism. Fortunately the two actors (Anni Finsterer and Elizabeth Nabben, the latter vividly evoking several characters) eeked some humour from the script. I had some hope that the third character — "the drum", a Facebook stand in — would morph into a Dalek and give them both something to really think about. Perhaps this was targeted at the audience who showed up: a somewhat abstracted presentation of tech issues and utopianism, arch dismissals of the arch dismissals of the world weary youngster, a way to talk to your grandkids.

For all that I agree with Dave that the set (Georgia Hopkins) and lighting design (Sian James-Holland) and sound design/composition (James Brown) were great; this is a valliant production.

Jason Blake.

Mother

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Palace Cinemas Norton St, $16 + $4.50 for a flat white, 9pm, Theatre 7 (first time upstairs), C5 (good spot, it's small). I only went because I was at something of a loose end after having dinner at the Indian in Coogee.

This is Aronofsky's latest. (The Wrestler I enjoyed, the rest not so much.) He's currently dating Jennifer Lawrence so she's front and centre in almost all frames. Javier Bardem does what he can with a cardboard character. Ed Harris is somehow scrawny and entirely competent as an emphysemic doctor. Michelle Pfeiffer enjoys herself immensely, especially when draping herself on Bardem (and makes this something of a jag from Scarface). There were about five people in the theatre and I wonder if anyone had any idea what was going on.

Anthony Lane: I also enjoyed Pfeiffer's efforts the most. A. O. Scott. I didn't get the humour. Francine Prose.

Ron Hansen: Nebraska.

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Kindle. I picked this up collection of shorts via a reference in the NYTimes book review a while back. The opener Wickedness is electric: weather more extreme than what I ever saw in Chicago brings forth vivid and unflinching paragraph-length portraits and the odd extended passage of survival and not. Playland sympathetically surveys a kitsch amusement park in perhaps larger Nebraska. I found the rest a bit meh: too much guns-and-dogs, and a ghost story I couldn't get into. Was this the tail end of modernism? — at times Hansen has as great expectations of his readers as Patrick White, and moreover rarely succeeds in making the culture of the day accessible to those who weren't there.

Mary La Chapelle reminds me that Hansen authored The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Michiko Kakutani concurred with my pick of the stories, and added the closing Nebraska, which I just skimmed. And yes, Hansen can indeed write.

Belvoir: Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen.

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I booked this a long time ago (2017-05-27) with some expectation that the raw material would be good after seeing Ibsen's A Doll's House in Chicago a few years back. This was a preview, $40, seat J24, and my first visit to Belvoir in a long while. It was packed with generational lifelong theatre goers; are Sydney productions generally too expensive or too conservative for young people?

The set is simple, not so different to that for Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Pamela Rabe anchors the piece wonderfully, and the entire cast worked well. It is indeed a play for the ages: ideas that shook the foundations of society in the 19th century depressingly still need championing in the 21st.

Jason Blake.

Seymour Centre: The Nether by Catnip Productions.

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7:30pm, Reginald Theatre seats E16/17, a freebie from somewhere. Somewhat packed with most coming right on the starting time, like a movie, and similarly the ladies behind me decided the two-thirds mark was a great time to unpack snacks from noisy wrappers. As it was a preview, I'll refrain from commenting on the production beyond observing that the acting and set are well conceived and totally fine.

The play itself (by Jennifer Haley) is fair game though. It aspires to transfuse Mamet's revelatory power-struggle seesaw Oleanna with the absolute and timeless transgressiveness of Vladimir Nabakov's Lolita (but not its poetics), all while holding things at the remove of virtual unreality, of realms where consequence is neutered. (That this play has a plot shows that the author doesn't take that claim too seriously; but surely we can call the internet the internet in 2017.) The use of big button-pushing topics struggled to make the audience uncomfortable however, and precluded the big theatrical moves (nudity, language, circus, ...) that may have lifted the piece. Often it felt like an undergraduate philosophy seminar, or perhaps an ethics debate at Facebook: a bit too abstract, privileged and question-begging.

The angle seems to be that technology will further democratize repugnant transactions, just as cheap airfares have democratized planetary destruction, and that the libertarians are going to need better arguments than those presented here if they are to avoid corporate vengeance. Kobek presented a far more nuanced present-day version of this in i hate the internet, which I'd summarise as: there's an apocalypse going on, and it's still going on. See Ben Brantley at the New York Times for more; he too considers this at most a play for the moment. Jason Blake concurs that the production plays it too safe.

Briefly: where the theatre once mythologized, now it struggles to neologize.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Even hotter than yesterday (30s ish). Headed over to Gordons Bay after a laksa and roti at the Grosvenor food court, around 2pm. Loads of kids, once again flat and high tide, beautiful in. The traffic was horrible heading back.

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Lunch at Tum's Thai and afterwards the first paddle of the season at Gordons Bay. I got in around 1pm on a pseudo-tropical warm day (thin high clouds, no direct sun, almost hot). The tide was as high as I've seen it there, lapping the tinny racks, but flat. The water felt about the same as in June: initially cold but pleasant once in. There were loads of kids on the rocks, including some who were razzing their dog into barking excitement. A few got in.

Old Boy (Spike Lee, 2013)

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Over several nights. A strong cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley. A completely unnecessary remake of the Park Chan-Wook original.

Kedi

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A recommendation from Mum and Glenn Kenny. Over several nights. The cats of Istanbul. Beautiful cinematography, some genuine empathy and amusing stories.

Scarface

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With Dave, $15 each for an EPIC 2K DIGITAL REMASTER screening at The Ritz, 8:30pm. A De Palma / Pacino / Oliver Stone masterwork. This is not a true classic of its genre, as the poster contends; it is the genre. Dinner at Pinocchio's beforehand.

Rose George: Deep Sea and Foreign Going: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Brings You 90% of Everything.

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Kindle. A blancmange of journalist Rose George's experiences aboard the container ship Maersk Kendal and some shallow research. One novelty she presents is that hostage negotiations use actors, though the obvious connections with Team America elude her. She touches on so many rich topics but never seems to get anywhere near their cores; for instance, shipping containers lost at sea are a source of toxicity but have also seeded marine ecosystems. A mild bit of googling suggests there's a lot to be fascinated about right there, but George mostly just serves up brief, pat impressions about octopus sapience, and that's a topic treated at book length by others. Then there is the story by which the world got so thoroughly containerised; somehow the joint action problem was solved, and one has to wonder how, but George isn't going to tell you.

Dwight Garner sold it to me.

Guild Theatre: The Rose Tattoo by Tennesse Williams.

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A bit spur-of-the-moment after a day at Centennial Park and UNSW, which was having its open day. 8pm, $25, seat B10, closing night down in Rockdale. I tried booking on their website and got an email asking me to call them back, or to simply show up at 7:30pm or later. Finding a coffee was a little tricky; a lady with a cute little European-style food joint sorted me out on the far side of the Rockdale train station.

This was a community theatre thing. The lead actress (in the role of Serafina Delle Rose) was solid and even better when she had someone else to act with, such as the bloke playing Alvaro Mangiacavallo. I found the audience a bit rude, often talking during the action. Not the best raw material, being somewhat dated and pointless, but somewhat fun nevertheless.

David Kary.