Direction: Conrad Newport (written by Dave Armstrong)
Circa Theatre; Circa One (October 15 – November 12)
Dave Armstrong’s latest play isn’t exactly a comedy – but it’s full of great (very funny) lines. More importantly it’s full of prescient commentary as it explores social/political issues including immigration and gentrification, subtly pointing too to the class divide within the country’s population and the Nouveau riche’s inability to measure anything beyond dollar-value, a bargain if you didn’t pay full price, a triumph if you sell for more than you paid – any cultural experience or added human value a bonus perhaps but most often mere distraction from the bottom line.
Central – referring of course to Central Otago – is the setting for the play’s action, though to call it action is misleading for it’s a dialogue-heavy romp. No issue with that, not when it zings and hums as is Armstrong’s way.
Michael (Tom Trevalla) is ex-Auckland Grammar and still connected to the lawyers and big business boys from the club. He’s a successful screenwriter, sold out to Hollywood and banked enough on a shitty action film to buy a vineyard down in Central. That’s the simple premise. That’s the symbol for the promise of a nice life for he and fading actress girlfriend Cherie (Claire Waldron). Together they’re working on a Kiwi arthouse film, drinking their award-winning pinot and marveling at the spectacular view that is theirs: Bought and paid for. The worked hard for this.
Hollywood comes calling for Michael to work on rewrites for someone else’s script. It’s not of interest to him but it’s a big pay day. And with local builder Brian (Alex Grieg) extending the deck and Cherie taking on housemaid Karen (Harriet Prebble) there are bills piling up. It isn’t quite trouble in paradise – not yet. But paradise has its price.
Cue discussions around selling out and further selling out. Can Michael leverage the shitty action film sequel work with the Hollywood lenders to get an investment in his pet project. Of is it his and Cherie’s pet project? And does it matter if a few compromises need to be made there?
Brian’s excited by the new local developments because it’ll keep him in work but Michael doesn’t just want any old cowboy down there messing up the view he worked hard for. As long as he can stare out at that in between trips from Queenstown to LA and back he can tell himself he’s obtained a type of freedom. He has options. He’s earned them.
Cleverly the tension builds as the wine and dialogue flows. On opening night Trevalla’s Tom broke the stem of a glass in the earliest moments. It was cleverly covered by an in-character Waldron. Bouncing up from the table as Cherie and not missing a line she returned with a cloth and fresh glass and they chuckled over the audience’s laughter with a naturalism that was just charming enough to excuse any first-night nerves.
Trevalla fills the room as a talented know-it-all. He’s got opinions that are not without reason but he’s still sure he’s always going to be right. He’s done the hard yards. And he deserves to bask.
Waldron was more worrying as Cherie. She captures the fragility of the spent ingénue – this palace is also her prison. She’s bored and desperate for one more chance to dance. She finds it easier to talk to the hard-working, beer-drinking Brian. Salt of the earth that lad. But Waldron missed a few cues – confused the two male characters’ names more than once – and seemed lost. She returned to deliver a powerful soliloquy, deserving of its applause for both the writing and her delivery.
Prebble and Grieg were both excellent. They’re both sideline characters – at least to begin with. They reveal more about themselves in the play’s quite-thrilling second act. And it’s down to their skills as actors here. Both use gesture and body-language to make their mark on the stage around the words from the page.