Direction: Jane Yonge (written by Victor Rodger
Circa Theatre; Circa One (March 21-31)
In her Wellington stage debut, internationally renowned, Kiwi-born Lisa Harrow is the revelation. As Joan, the grandmother with grit, with a heart of gold but a potty-mouth and some dark secrets, Harrow is constantly the hook and hinge of this production – she’s never less than brilliant, it’s the sort of tour-de-force effort that lifts the performances of Marco Alosio (Joan’s grandson, Robert) and Jerome Leota (Robert’s absentee father, Tofi). They’re both terrific of course – and as the 90-minute play rolls through their performances grow, mean more, but it’s Harrow that – seemingly – this play was written for.
If there’s another star it’s Victor Rodger (Black Faggot). And though the playwright should, in some sense, always be considered, here it’s almost virtuoso writing, mesmeric – so perfectly has he captured the special ugliness of New Zealand’s not-quite-classist and never-classy racist one-upmanship; beyond that it’s a deep probe into the darkness that unsettles all families, family secrets.
Joan arrives at the wake of her daughter, brandishing a $300 bottle of scotch. Grandson Robert flies in from New York. His father Tofi was never part of his life, but at Robert’s request he will arrive to pay his respects.
This is the set-up. This is what triggers a subtly explosive dynamic.
Joan is acerbic and hysterical and cold and ghastly – all at once. And Harrow clearly relishes the chance to fire out the killer lines and to imbue them with hard stares, callous laughter, outrageous gesticulation.
Robert loves his grandmother despite her obvious faults. She loves him too – it’s one of her core strengths. But what about Tofi? He has reinvented himself. He arrives with remorse, but rigid principles. He is entirely on the backfoot but has huge heart and love to give.
At The Wake is profoundly beautiful. And the standing ovation felt like it was for the writing as much as it was for the performances. And that felt very right indeed.
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