I think I’d like to inhabit playwright Lally Katz’s imagination. Holiday there long term, perhaps.
Hers is a world not so removed from our own: that same patch of earth where those same Newtonian laws apply; two-legged creatures are born and die, attempting in their short times to connect, know, find meaning, all the while bumbling around klutzily, getting in each other’s way, in their own way, taking one pace back for every two forward in a beautifully awkward kind of staccato mis-dance, like one of those highland seizure jigs, or the overgrown-men-with-hankie dances, or your dad attempting hip hop. Somewhat misguided, a bit tragic perhaps; but at the very least, entertaining to watch. But then roll that shit in glitter. Life according to Katz.
Hers is a world with magical dolphins and apocalypse bears to cheer you up. It’s a bit of a James and the Giant Peach, the outside world no less big and scary, but, along with awesome anthropod pals, navigated from within a delicious, fleshy and ultimately edible ship, a ship which is then divvied up and enjoyed with 10,000 friends. There’s poetry in the everyday; imagery that is rich yet precise, illuminating, fresh and never lofty, reframing the familiar with an offbeat optimism.
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Return To Earth was another such tour de Katz, though with a lingering sadness. Alice (Shari Sebbens) — or Erica, we’re never sure which — returns to her sleepy Australian hometown from an extended period away. She’s forgotten how to chew and, it would seem, how to perform most other basic social functions. Her parents (Wendy Strehlow and Laurence Coy), menacingly bombastic Americans, are desperate to brush over the unexplained absence and reintegrate her into their world, while her recently widowed brother (Ben Barber) and childhood friend (Catherine Terracini) are less warm to her sudden reappearance. Try as she does to follow the rules, making for herself a boyfriend of the local mechanic (Yure Covich) and regurgitating dreams of love and motherhood, she just can’t quite seem to pull it all together.
The cast is fabulous across the board, with particular mention to Sebbens who, in spite of Alice’s stunted social skills and tendency toward child-like, wide-eyed wonder, has drawn a fully-fledged character with tangible, deeply-buried demons. Strehlow and Coy have pitched their American intensity perfectly, jarring us often hilariously from the Australian naturalism without ever descending into camp. Scarlett Waters (who alternates with Tahlia Hoffman-Hayes) stole the audience’s hearts with a killer comic instinct and remarkable ease on the stage in her professional debut.
Paige Rattray’s direction is just right, unobtrusive yet with a distinct if subtle stylistic vision. She clearly gets the tone of the play, allowing the magic to just sit matter-of-factly within the realism, refraining from overdrawing the weirdness inherent in the script. It is a testament to her boldness, insight and delicacy as a director that she has rescued Katz’s script from possible obscurity on the back of its widely unloved Melbourne debut.
If you’re partial to a bit of human stuff rolled in KatzGlitter (and who isn’t?), Return To Earth delivers.
The details: Return To Earth played Griffin Theatre on September 4-28.