LAB Theatre arrives at the Alex
Review by Marian Webb / photographs by Kerrie Pacholli
Daniel Schepisi and Katharine Innes performing in Fifty Words by Michael Weller
FIFTY WORDS by American dramatist MICHAEL WELLER premiered Off Broadway in 2008. Now, Lab Theatre, under the masterful direction of PETER KALOS, has brought the two-hander to the Alex in St Kilda.
Talented stage and screen performers KATHARINE INNES and DANIEL SCHEPISI portray Jan and Adam, a couple whose marriage reaches crisis over the course of a night when their nine-year-old son Greg is away on a sleep-over. The actors have both trained under Kalos in the American ‘method’ tradition pioneered by Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York and brought home by Kalos after a 20-year sojourn in the US.
Method is highly suitable to cinematic acting as it allows actors to tap the depths of their own psychology to give naturalistic, nuanced expression to the characters they portray. This kind of cinematic realism was on display in the stag performance I witnessed on Thursday night (25 July). There was genuine intimacy between the actors, who performed much of the play’s first act facing each other in profile to the audience, a positioning which rendered audible projection of dialogue somewhat difficult without the aid of cinematic microphones. Added to this challenge, Lab Theatre has only recently taken up residence at the Alex, which boasts an auditorium presumably larger than the ‘black box’ in Brunswick where in 2017 Lab Theatre began. Levels improved after intermission, however, when dialogue was perfectly audible.
Katharine Innes gave an assured, high-key performance as the overworked, overwrought Jan, a ballerina turned mother-cum-data-analyst. Daniel Schepisi gave a truthful rendition of Adam, Jan’s loving husband bemused by her increasingly frantic outbursts. There was much to love in his performance, although layers of deceitfulness and cynicism in Adam’s character seemed alien to the promising young actor.
The set, credited to Lab Theatre producers DENNIS MANAHAN, SKYE YOUNG and NATALIA NESPECA, is extraordinary; it presents an entirely liveable apartment complete with functioning kitchen, tasteful dining room, windows backdropped with nocturnal cityscape, and a translucent upstairs bedroom. A projected digital clock indicates the passage of time through the all-night action of the play.
The play’s title – Fifty Words – refers to a wish voiced by Jan for as many words in English for love as there are Eskimo words for snow. This is a love story about a crisis in intimacy that besets a marriage suddenly released from the blanketing burden of child-rearing.
Lab Theatre is to be congratulated for a nuanced and engaging piece of stage craft. The company is a welcome addition to the artistic life of St Kilda and well-placed to become a magnetic centre of excellence.
Alex Theatre – Level 1, 135 Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda
Wednesday 24 July @ 8pm (Preview night)
Friday 26 July @ 8pm (Opening Night)
Saturday 27 July @ 8pm
Sunday 28 July 5pm
Thursday 1 August @ 8pm
Friday 2 August @ 8pm
Saturday 3 August @8pm (Closing night)
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