Review: Of The Causes of Wonderful Things

by Jane

This review originally appeared on www.australianstage.com.au

Five children are missing. As their aunt Esther tries to come to grips with her loss, a detective and the audience must try and piece together what has happened. Their mother, Claire and her partner Frankie are all but removed from the picture, seemingly more infatuated by cigarettes than the children.

Of The Causes of Wonderful Things builds off Talya Rubin’s gentle script into a play crossing the boarders of text-based theatre and installation artwork. The solo play written and performed by Rubin moves through intersecting characters as their relationship to the missing and their disappearance are explored.

The 1940s design elements are lush and gorgeous. Over three plating spaces are a working reel-to-reel tape recorder, rotary phones, lamps, tables and radio of deep wood, a blue dressing gown hanging from the ceiling, a red hand bag sitting on the ground. An overhead projector shines its light against a screen, as Rubin walks us through negatives of photos or creates the peaceful menace of the lake.

On the ground, Rubin creates dioramas: out of small models grows a house surrounded by forest where naked children try to live in the rabbit hatch; a mound of dirt, a model tree and a small torch becomes search crews walking the forest; a large perspex box with two pin-points of light becomes the underground lair of a mole. It is unfortunate these elements couldn’t always be fully seen due to poor sightlines.

This is a protracted piece of theatre. While the slow pace feels suitable to the slow peril of the children, many scenes seem superfluous to the driving story. This intersection of various characters, some with relationships more tenuous to the central story than others, weakens the impact of the overall piece. In scenes which don’t seem to be related to the overall arc, in particular the reoccurring motif of the Town Hall concert, the connection to the central character of Esther and her five missing nieces and nephews becomes frayed.

Other directorial choices of Nick James also dull the impact: when Rubin inexplicably pulls an audience member out to sit on the stage, only to directly return her to her seat one monologue later, the audience is distracted from the text itself; they also must question why does sometimes Rubin act out in differing characterizations both parts of a conversation, while conversations between Claire and Frankie utilize a puppet?

While a sufficient show to showcase Rubin’s talents as an actor embodying many characters, and to exhibit the interaction of text-based work with visual art elements, the text overall needs tightening and editing to show off these elements to their best advantage. Of The Causes of Wonderful Things is a quiet piece, yet it needs focus to revel this to everyone’s advantage.

Too Close To The Sun presents Of The Causes of Wonderful Things, writen and performed by Tayla Rubin.  Directed by Nick James, sound design by Hayley Forward, dramaturgy by Jodi Essery, puppet maker Zoe Coombs Marr, technical consultant Russell Emerson, visual consultant Justine Shih Pearson.  

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