Monday, September 23, 2013

Death Rides A Horse, Melbourne Fringe Festival 2013 Review

Death Rides A Horse - Rama Nicholas

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

The title is taken from the 1967 Spaghetti Western by Sergio Leone and starring Lee Van Cleef, and while the feel of this one woman performance is loyal to that genre of film-making (just as cheesy but funnier), the story is only tenuously connected to the movie, if at all.

Writer and performer Rama Nicholas plays more than a dozen characters including Clixter the horse narrator, Catarina the heroine, flamenco hero and love interest Gus (I think this was his name... my note-taking-in-the-dark sucks), a villainous sheriff, a brothel madam and her entire whorehouse. There are many other minor characters too who get big laughs and are all, in their small way, a nod to the Spaghetti Western.

I have to admit that initially the cheesiness had me worried. It felt a little too flaky, like it was going to be an amateur performance that wasn't going to fly.

How wrong I was.
Less than 10 minutes into the show the audience is seduced by Nicholas' charm and gusto. Or perhaps it is the charm and gusto of the characters she plays. Catarina was orphaned at a young age and left on the doorstep of the whorehouse. The madam takes her in raises her, believing her to be destined for bigger things than whoredom. Indeed, Catarina wants to be the best darned cowgirl in the whole wide world, and when she is robbed of some racing prize money she teams up with the dancing Spaniard and they set off to Cancun on the Day Of The Dead (Death's day off) to put things right. She wants revenge on the sheriff, who killed her parents, and the Spaniard wants to kill Death for taking his young bride back in Barcelona.
It's pretty well a non-stop giggle fest of silliness and it's difficult to pick highlights. There are the girls in the whorehouse who sing of having dreams that never come true; the cross-country journey played out as a montage; our heroes' mishap with peyote; the dramatic shoot out; Death played as a music-hall song and dance man... it's all inventive, silly and played with obvious enjoyment.

And as playful as it all is, some of the songs and indeed the dialogue are a bit on the raunchy side. We are talking wild west whorehouse here and the play doesn't shy away from the nuts and bolts of how the girls make their living. The villainous sheriff even drops the C-bomb to hilarious effect (“Aw come on, I can say that - this is a fringe show!”). You'd have to be the prudiest prude to take offence.

Very funny stuff. Highly recommended.

At The Lithuanian Club, North Melbourne until September 27.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Stranger - Geraldine Quinn Review, 2013 Melbourne Fringe Festival

Stranger – Geraldine Quinn

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

Geraldine Quinn's stranger is a not-of-this-world traveller trying to understand human nature. This stranger is a spandex-wearing, stage-strutting, “cluster-fuck of brilliance” and we are not worthy of her presence, and if she deigns to walk amongst us and try to understand us we should be awed and amazed and grateful. She is, perhaps, the lovechild of Ziggy Stardust and the Starman waiting in the sky, and she knows she's going to blow our mind.

The show is a fusion of traditional cabaret and observational stand-up comedy. That is, it is presented as cabaret with a mixture of monologue and song, but the material is, effectively, the stuff of the comedian outsider who doesn't quite get why we do what we do. Mostly this kind of humour points out our foibles in a way that makes us realise that yes, this thing is a foible; why the hell haven't I realised this before?

In this case the material reasonably funny without being on the hilarious level a stand-up needs it to be to succeed, given that they usually have monologue alone as their weapon. In analysing various aspects of being human - friendship, sex, love – Stranger doesn't exactly blow our minds. By the show's end this stranger comes to the conclusion that we are “mangled and marvellous”, which is the conclusion any of us will have come to if we have thought about the sprawling weirdness of humanity's achievements if we've given it all a few minutes of thought.
Having said that, the material doesn't have to be stand alone brilliant because it is delivered through clever song-writing which is in turn delivered via a sometimes powerhouse voice. And Quinn owns the stage with her commanding presence.

There are some fun devices such as the telepathy part where our starwoman doesn't realise she is thinking out loud. A funny touch which later leads to her flicking the switch so that she hears all of our thoughts. Where we have withered under her piercing gaze earlier in the show, she now crumbles under the weight of the cacophony of our desperate thoughts. This was a more poignant scene than some audience members might have realised, given that the voices we hear broadcast are actual confessions from real strangers like you and me, phoned in anonymously earlier in the year. Mangled and marvellous indeed.

In the end I enjoyed Stranger without being blown away by it. I didn't come away feeling enlightened by the observations made. I enjoyed the performance without getting the goosebumps you do at a truly extraordinary performance. I think I wanted the observations to be sharper, the humour to be funnier and the pathos to be more crushing.

And I had a very enthusiastic post-show discussion with my fellow Fringies who thought the show was sensational. Perhaps they are right; maybe I was just having a jaded-old-tosser night. You know you have those nights? Go see it, you'll probably love it as much as everyone else appears to... and feel free to tell me that yes, I was being a jaded old tosser.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Vladmir Is Welcomed To The Gang

As you may or may not know, I've been slowly losing the vision in my left eye for a few years now. It's pretty bad. I can see, but my central vision is so bad that if I look at your face through my left eye only, I probably won't recognise you. Your face will be a grey smudge. I can make things disappear by looking through my left eye only. Faces, objects,  some colours... they all disappear. I'm like some kind of visionary magician.

I've realised that my left eye is affecting my overall vision and that if I look through my right eye only, things are clearer. Solution? Eye patch.

Today after realising that I actually should experiment with an eye patch, after years of joking about eye patch wearers and going to fancy dress parties as a pirate, the conversation as we walked along Southbank went a little like it usually does.

"Yep," I announced after putting my hand over my left eye, "I think I definitely need to try wearing an eye patch."

"Really?"  The Dreaded One asked.

"Yeah. I might lose depth perception but that's happening anyway. At least when I look through my right eye only, everything is clear. Lines are straight."

"Okay. Maybe you should do it then."


A long, thoughtful silence followed.

"Thing is, I'd look like a pretty scary fucker with an eye patch."

"Yes. Yes you would."

"So what's happening in my head right now... if I have this shaved-head-and-eye-patch thing going and someone started talking to me at a party and they asked me what my name is, I would say Vladmir. I am Vladmir Smirnoff, pronounced Shmeeeernoff. Said with an impressive Russian accent."

"Oh. Hello, Vladmir. So, like, what do you do?"

"I am an assassin."

"Oh really? Cool. I guess you must be a pretty hands on kind of assassin. Hand-to-hand stuff?"

"Why do you make this assumption?"

"Well you couldn't be a sniper, with the depth percetion stuff and everything."

"I will have you know that Vladmir Shmeernoff is the number one assasin at the Hit Or Miss Assassination Agency."

The Dreaded One took all of this in.

"So this is what happens when you talk about sorting out your eye sight. You have to invent a new character."

"Apparently. I think Grumpy, Black Rainbow, Bra Pee, Loose Cannon, Monterey Jack and Stagger Lee will welcome Vlad to the gang."

Monday, September 09, 2013

On Multi-tasking

Today I discovered that I can read, think about something completely unrelated to my reading material AND miss my tram stop all at the same time.

Multi-tasking like a boss.

Friday, September 06, 2013

A Small, Good Thing.

Woolworths on Smith Street, Collingwod. It's a magnet for dodgy fuckers. There is a colourful bunch of regular alcoholcs who spend a hell of a lot of time milling about in various states of intoxication. I'm sure deals are done on the rooftop carpark. The drunken abuse of innocent pedestrians is not uncommon, often because said pedestrian had the temerity to not have any spare change to give, sister. They are mostly harmlessly deranged by booze, although not long ago a nerdy lookin Asian guy focused on his phone was hit from behind, knocked to the ground and his phone was stolen. Pays to be aware.

Last night just as I walked through the front door a woman pushing a fully loaded shopping trolley ran into difficulty. One of the wheels locked up. She smiled to herself as she struggled, changed strategy, changed direction, thinking that if she tried hard enough the wheel would loosen up. But that trolley was going nowhere. The smile weakened, like come on, I don't need this.

"Excuse me," I said. "I think it has something to do with that yellow line you just crossed. It's a security device to lock up the trolley. You can't take them out of the store."

"Oh really?"

"Yes. Look. There's a sign there explaining it."

She read the sign, told me in what sounded like an Eastern European accent that she did not know. She thanked me. I said you're welcome and turned away.

Then thought: that was a pretty full trolley. What is she going to do?

I turned back just as she looked down at all those bags, and her shoulders drooped. However they say shit in Eastern Europe, I think that's what she was thinking. She hesitated and was obviously also thinking do I try to carry this all by myself? Do I leave half of it here and come back for the rest? It's been a long day, I really don't need this.

I asked her if she needed a hand

"I can help you carry your bags if you like. There's too much for you and you can't leave any of it here. It'll get stolen."

"Well... if you are able to..."

She really looked at me as she said this. Looked at my face. Looked into my eyes. Quick glance at the clothes. I knew what she was thinking.

"It's no problem at all."

"Okay. My car is just up the road a little."

She seemed tired. I think she was wondering is she had just done a stupid thing. Laden down, we walked up the hill, a kind of dark, uphill alley. I was torn between making small talk and remaining silent. I didn't want to make small talk because she might think I was going to hit on her. Remaining silent seemed kind of menacing. Still, I remained silent.

"This is our exercise for the night,"  she said in that cute accent.

"Cheaper than going to the gym," I replied.

We arrived at her car and she put her bags on the ground and didn't reach for her keys. Smart girl. Be wary because there are dodgy fuckers everywhere, and sometimes they don't look so dodgy. I didn't wait for her to unlock the car. I put her bags on the ground, told her to have a nice night, and I walked away.

"Thank you so much." Said with such gratitude.

"Absolutely not a problem." Said with a smile and no hint of menace.

I walked past her abandoned trolly stuck there like a bogged car, and I was glad that I walked by when I did. The timing was perfect. I was glad that I had turned back too in time to catch that drop of the shoulders.

And I was saddened by the fact that I felt I had to be quiet. Saddened by the fact that she was suspicious of my motives. Saddened by the fact that such suspicion is a necessary survival instinct. Saddened by the fact that such a small thing warranted such expression of gratitude.

Post title a nod to Raymond Carver.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Father, Family & Friends

Ah. Father's Day huh? Hmm.

Father's Day means nothing to me. I mean, I have quite a few friends who are young fathers or are soon-to-be fathers and I am genuinely happy for them because they are good people. Proper good, decent people, loving fathers and good friends. I've even held some of their babies recently and marvelled at the way they look at the world and how they struggle to communicate and understand what is going on. Amazing little creatures and it must be fascinating to be their father and watch them develop. It's not for me, fatherhood, but I appreciate what an amazing thing it must be to be a parent.

But father's Day means nothing to me.

The story of my father... There was a father figure in my story The Funniest Man In The World Tells A Funny Story, but I'm not sure if that was an accurate portrayal. I remember my grandmother being troubled by that story when it was published because she thought it was an honest account, so maybe it was. There was also a father in Remembering Argos and I also discussed family in a story called Finding Davey, and there was the ghost of a father in Blue Angeline who was actually the ghost of my grandfather. Other than those occasions, fatherhood just doesn't feature. I don't miss my father. I don't feel like anything is missing.

So. My father. Pretty funny story actually. I remember him as being a fun kind of guy, even if, looking back, he was probably a bit immature. Loved his music and I thank him for introducing me to glam rock at an early age. I'm probably a bit like him in my hedonist attitude towards life. I remember him being drunk quite a lot, the kind of drunk I avoid, even if I am drunk quite a lot. Unlike him, I don't cause scenes, don't punch holes in walls, don't smash gifts on Christmas day because I can't do what I want to do. These are my hazy memories of him when something causes me to remember, which is rare.

I last saw my father when I was about 15 years old. For a couple of years before that he was a bit of a character. The parents had split when I was about 10 and I do remember being a bit traumatised by that and having to make a choice. I find that funny now, given how little I care about the idea of family.

Somehow he seemed to suddenly have a bit of cash, and he was flash about it. I remember cowboy hats and flash clothes. Real suburban dandy stuff. He had a Leyland P76 that he had spray painted to look like the car in the TV series Starsky & Hutch. It takes balls to do something as publicly ridiculous as that. Sometimes when he visited he would show us (younger brother and me) the gun he had started carrying around, even fired a couple of rounds into the air. I didn't know what the fuck was going on. This was what fathers were like, as far as I knew.

Then at about 15 years old at a new high school in my old suburb (we had moved around then moved back), some of the tough, older guys befriended me. It was the weirdest thing. I had my group of friends who were big into getting into trouble if that's what it took to get a laugh, then some of the coolest guys in school, a couple of years ahead of me, started being friendly. It started when the main guy came up to me one day and said "Someone tells me you've been saying you know the guy who drives the Starsky & Hutch car. I don't think you do because he's a mate of mine."

I was shitting myself because I wasn't a fighter and I was absolutely sure this guy was about to fight me to death. My friends were watching from a distance but were not going to do anything because Tough Guy's friends were also watching from a distance.

"I do," I said, getting all Mandrake The Magician and pulling some attitude out of my arse. "He's my father."

Tough Guy thought about this for a bit and slowly decided not to fight me to death just yet.

Shortly after this, Tough Guy started saying hello to me in passing. Friendly nod. Friendly wink. Yeah, I thought, head held high, who's the dude? I'm the dude.

Still not really knowing what was going on.

The last time I saw my father is a moment I regret. He was visiting when I arrived home from school. I snubbed him. I have no idea why. I was confused about a lot of things. He was there in his shiny shirt talking to my mother and I just had some kind of attitude and ignored him. Didn't say hello. Sat down to listen to what he had to say but I basically totally fucking snubbed him. I regret that because in spite of everything I don't think he was an overly bad person, just a bit of a fuck up out for a good time, and in many ways I had made the wrong decision about who to stay with. With so much about what was going on, I had no idea what was going on.

Actually, that was the second last time I saw my father. The last time... the last time was when I was sitting with the rest of my family, the mother, the younger brother and the grandparents, eating our typically early dinner around the dining table, watching the evening news. I don't remember conversation ever being a thing. We just ate in silence while the sun was still shining and watched the 6 0'clock news.

And suddenly there he was. My father in handcuffs being lead to the police car while a voice talked about the biggest drug bust in Sydney Airport's history. It felt like a massive, still moment that was over all too quickly. What the hell just happened? What the hell was going on?

I had a lot to deal with (pardon the pun) in the following days at school because everyone else had been watching the news as well. A lot of the kids thought it was funny and had fun with it. I laughed along but not being the kind of kid who liked any kind of attention, I fucking hated it. I especially didn't want this kind of attention. We had our name changed which was probably not necessary, and even that drew more attention and was the source of more amusement.

I have no idea what became of my father after that. I know he went to jail but he would have been out after a few years, I guess, and everyone just kind of got on with their lives. I got used to the name change and actually prefer it to the old one.

So there it is, a story I've told a handful of times. I don't feel in any way bitter or resentful or think that celebrating fatherhood is a bad thing. Quite the opposite. When I see the happiness family brings to the lives of my friends, I feel genuinely happy for them, and I feel grateful to have my friends as my family because they are a pretty cool bunch of people who probably don't want to fight me to death.