Review: The Give and Take

by Jane

Climbing the cooperate ladder of the Sydney sprinkler industry, somewhere along the line Don (George Kapiniaris) has neglected his family, and his family have neglected him.  Just as Don finds out he is among the top choices to take over as CEO, his three children have driven their mother to the airport, so she can fly to Tuscany to find herself (having sex with those sexy Italian men).  In almost a modern Australian take on King Lear (here I am thinking I’m so bright for coming up with that comparison, and Catherine Fitzgerald mentions it in her Notes From The Director!), Don then asks his children – body builder Damien (Chris Asimos), “anarchist” Neil (Matthew Crook), and corporate climber Julie (Rihannon Owen)-  to prove they love him for more than his money.  The problem is: they don’t.   That’s just the give and take.

The very model of a picture perfect family. I'm pretty sure Asimos stole Crook's arms, slapped toothpicks on Crook, and then tied the arms together to make his own giant arms. Science! Photo by Shane Reid.

The set combines a functional yet non-specific space, all polished glass and sharp angles, shining in its harsh superficiality, used for an office, a house, a café.  Surrounding this realistic set (although, really, what offices don’t have a computer in them these days?) is a border of model houses, little boxes made of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.  At first, I admit, I balked: not another set with a representational border!  But Fitzgerald and designer Mary Moore inject both humour and functionality into the set.  When characters step out into this area it doesn’t seem odd, or as if they are breaking the fourth wall, as was done in Moore designed Blackbird: this is as justified a playing space as any other.

With just a click of his fingers, outgoing CEO AJ (Pip Miller) lights up the back yards of Sydney with sprinklers (And for those who are wondering, water restrictions in NSW allow watering by sprinklers between 4pm and 10am.  Not that I spent half the play wondering about the legalities of the company’s position.  Never.  The swimming pools in the houses, however, do fall into the illegal not-surrounded-by-a-fence category.); when Julie meets Don coming out of her house, they literally meet on the street; as Damien exercises (and yet Asimos still manages to say his lines without stopping for a breath!), the houses become his circuit; when Don expels his grief in the discovery his wife has left him, we watch the neighbourhood wake up and light up.

Through the set, also, some nice subtle touches were into the piece: through a glass wall, you see receptionist / PA Sally spending her working hours playing Solitaire (if you’re going to spend your time on stage, back to audience with very little to do, I guess playing solitaire is the way to do it!).

Now there is a fitness course for you. Photo by Shane Reid.

The one set, however, does bring up some questions: when they walk out of the sauna, have they walked straight into his office?  Why does receptionist Sally say AJ is coming up, when the lift (very well represented by a shaft of moving light behind a glass wall, although the light fading before it reaches the top of the set is a bit distracting) travelling down?

Lighting by Mark Pennington does little more to illuminate the set, but you can’t knock it for what it achieves. Composition, by Ian Moorhead, uses a mash of media snippets in-between scenes effectively and amusingly highlighting the fast-paced, media saturated, materialistic focus of modern Australia.

The cast all perform fine in the roles they are given, yet none are truly given a chance to shine or show their capabilities in their one-note characters.   The problem lies in you never truly believe in any of the characters.  The conversations between characters look and sound rehearsed; it becomes nice moments when you see Kapiniaris drop character ever so slightly, as amused by the antics of his fellow actors a small smile or the start of a chuckle will cross his face.  While Don discovers his children only love him for his money, we are never presented any other reason as to why they would love him, nor are we presented with a reason as to why he would want them to love him.

McNamera’s biting commentary on the upper echelons of the Sydney business executives paints a bleak and near unforgiving picture, and it feels as if he is almost too distasteful of the class to inject any sympathy, creating a level of remove between characters and audience.  While he creates this world with humour, it feels like he is mocking his characters and the corporate empire: a fine stance to take, but here without redemption.  Even when Don seemingly notes the errors in his relationship with his children, he simply turns around to make bigger mistakes in his professional life.

No! Not the poor apple! His life is too short to come to this! Photo by Shane Reid

Director Fitzgerald chooses neither to fully ground the play, nor push it far enough into the realms of farce, so the piece sits in a sort of netherworld where the humour neither embraces nor surpasses the bleakness in the script.  Taking in its position in the STCSA line up, it fails to reach the heights that were found in God Of Carnage, nor thematically distance itself enough to avoid this comparison.

The Give and Take is, ultimately, a rather mild-mannered and only gently humorous look into this world of high-flying Sydney, baby-boomers and their 20-something children.  A trying play, it achieves more as an amusing divertissement rather than a pointed commentary or piece of great humour.

The State Theatre Company presents The Give and Take by Tony McNamara.  Directed by Catherine Fitzgerald, design by Mary Moore, lighting design by Mark Pennington, composition by Ian Moorhead.  With Chris Asimos, Matthew Crook, Laura-Jane Emes, George Kapiniaris, Peter Mitchell, Pip Miller and Rhiannon Owen.

At the Dunstan Playhouse until 21 November.  The performance on the 19th of November will be followed by a Red Carpet Garden Party, open bar, music and food (and croquet, if the whisper is true).

As an adjunct and a teaser to my next blog: I do wonder, why, for all of her talk at the Women In Theatre debate at the RightAct conference, Fitzgerald is directing a play written by a male, with a primarily male cast, and this pattern is repeated in the two STCSA productions she is directing next year.  In the MPAG theatre programs released for 2011, women come up reasonably well against men as directors – even if, with only two plays, Fitzgerald will one of the most produced women among these companies – the picture for female writers is woefully bleak.  Join me next time, as I deconstruct what you will be seeing on your stages in 2011!