Less Body Than A Cheap Wine In Tale Of Down-and-outs
Sydney Morning Herald
Monday August 18, 2008
BUMMING WITH JANEBelvoir St Theatre, August 14Until September 7TAHLI CORIN'S play opens with Patrick (Tahki Saul) and Beverly (Gertraud Ingeborg) being relaxed and intimate, drinking red wine, talking movies and playing the tiresome "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" game.Beverly is the landlord. Patrick is six months behind in the rent. She insinuates there are other ways of paying the rent, but there is the complication of Patrick's girlfriend, Jane (Sophie Cook).The play is inspired by Charles Bukowski's poem of the same name. The baked beans, wine and rent-avoiding are common to both, but the poem has the keen observation you would expect from America's skid row laureate, and an ending that affirms life amid scamming degradation.The play, alas, manages none of that and suffers from an external point of view. It's not convincing and Corin invites us to enjoy the cheap voyeurism of watching without bothering to attempt the harder, more satisfying crafts of playwriting: character depth and complication, narrative surprise, emotion and involvement.Two howlers are indicative. First, these characters apparently live in an Australian city where pawnbrokers will pay for used socks (imagine the re-sale profits). Second, despite their poverty, our couple insist on bottled wine. Anyone who has spent time with those on the terminal side of no-budget alcoholism understand the cheap, killer appeal of the four-litre cask. Despite all the wine, they never get drunk. Seems like a waste of money, and no wonder they are depressed and noisily angry.Kellie Mackereth's production is insipid. If you are going to break a stage-glass pickle jar as your big climax (in a scene with a horribly clunky writerly metaphor), why do it behind a couch? Ingeborg glides through with a nice hint of despairing lust, and Saul is pleasant, but there's no depth in the text from which to create characters. The only true note is the blistering paint on Melanie Paul's set. Everything else is sadly patronising and utterly ersatz.