Theatre Review: Seasons of Keene

A Glass of Twilight and Untitled Monologue
By Daniel Keene
Reviewer: Laura McHugh

Below the Line is director Ben Drysdale”s third season of short plays derived from Daniel Keene”s collected works to whom it may concern and other plays. The Sydney Morning Herald writes “Daniel Keene is a dangerous playwright”he works right on the moral edge”. And this he certainly does in both A Glass of Twilight and Untitled Monologue.

This particularly applies to the first piece, as the characters grapple with the morals behind homosexual relations and having sex for money. The play revolves around two central characters – a travelling, ageing salesman played by Matt Borneman, and a street kid, Tom, played by Pat Gordon.

The short play starts out well, with believable and strong performances by both actors. The first meeting at the train station is well imagined, with a subdued Tom and a slightly desperate salesman trying to proposition him. As we watch the relationship evolve, there is a great deal of tenderness shown between the two. These are two very lonely people (a theme that Drysdale stressed in the program) looking for and wanting companionship and a sense of connection in the rather isolating world which the play inhabits. However, it does dwindle away at the end, and I would have preferred a more dramatic climax to a piece that is on one level intent on shocking the audience.

There were limited props ” no doubt as a result of the hefty touring schedule of the play, but this did create a stark and dismal surrounding which was well suited to the gritty and realistic piece. Therefore, the bed, one of the only props used, became significant. It featured prominently as a symbolic meeting place for two people coming from such vastly different worlds.

Ben Drysdale states that he was “instantly engaged by the honest, empathic and very human writing style.” And the writing is just this. The dialogue was believable, with the guttural accents of Tom the street kid, and the almost apologetic, soft tones of the salesman. However, I did feel there were moments, particularly towards the end, when the script slipped into something like melodrama and became a bit sloppy.

The second piece, Untitled Monologues, was superior to the first in terms of acting and general stage direction. The performance by Matt Borneman was verging on excellence. Borneman managed to convey anguish and a range of other deep emotions primarily through facial gestures ” for it is the mark of a great actor to be able to work with very little. There were no great arm gestures of exasperation, or throwing oneself to the ground. Rather, it was a subdued performance that carried with it many poignant moments. Having seen Borneman in other plays and not realising his full capacity, I was amazed at his versatility and range.

This play consisted of a series of unanswered letter to his father, which were delivered in a series of monologues. The spoken letters conveyed at first to the audience a sense of hopefulness at being in a new place with the idea of many possibilities before him. But they soon descended into a series of hard luck tales, filled with incidents dealing with money and the difficulty in finding work – perhaps something could have gone right for him?

Interspersed with these letters was the story of a girl he”d tried to pick up, which goes horribly wrong. The Mathew character wanted to overcome loneliness through letters to his Dad, and the fact that they remain unanswered only enhances his sense of isolation. Also, through his connection with the girl his desperation for human company is made clear ” though does he come across too strong for her?

Drysdale and lighting designer, Michael Richards, have achieved a dramatic effect in this play by dimming the lights in between segments of the letters, whilst the character moved to different parts of the stage. However, it is the beautiful and competent music by composer Damien Slingsby in these darkened moments that creates an atmosphere of emotional outpouring. Slingsby played a continuous themed composition, which provided moments of climatic tension to the piece.

Overall the plays did work, and Drysdale”s direction was well executed. Perhaps more could have been done to connect them. Even though the characters and situations are different, the themes of loneliness and needing to connect with another person, are prevalent in both. I”m eagerly looking forward to Drysdale”s next instalment of the Daniel Keene legacy.

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