AdlFringe Review: Like A Fishbone

by Jane

Tonight, the architect (Shannon Mackowski) has a very important presentation. The monument – sorry, the memorial – plans are being presented. A small, religious town a train ride – or was that bus? – away from the city has been shaken by a school shooting. The architect, with advice from the committee, who are representing the stakeholders, has come up with a building – a work of art, perhaps, even – to memorialize the event.

The mother (Amy Victoria Brooks) arrived from that town on the train – or was that bus? – through the rain and the wet, sent by her daughter to see what the architect has planned. A memorial they don’t want. How could anyone, anything, make sense of this? Raise the children up to God in the heavens, she thinks. Don’t tie them to the ground.

Anthony Weigh’s Like A Fishbone attempts to explore the didactic relationships between opposing views, highlighted by a school shooting. One woman is an atheist, the other deeply religious. One from the city, one the county. One a feminist, one believes man and woman have different roles. One a career woman first, one a mother always. But Weigh plays so much in these antithetical positions his characters so rarely find a middle ground: through-out the seventy minute long production, there is disappointingly little space for them to develop and change.

In this production director Charles Sanders, too, struggles in finding ebb and a flow to the work. He starts the play with the actors hitting a tension level of nine: there is nowhere for the work to go.

Weigh’s script has the women speaking over each other, creating a layered lattice of their views; the two so rarely completely come together in the one world as they half listen to each other. Where Weigh’s lines, however, roll over and into each other, Sanders’ has the lines run into each other, abruptly halting. There is no modulation in these emotions; it’s all hurling forward.

With every line being forcefully pushed by Brooks and Mackowski, there is little room for the actors, and the audience, to discover variation within the characters. The argument between the women eventually turns physical, but because we were introduced to the pair at such high-pressure levels, the production doesn’t so much escalate to this point as this point simply appears. Without Saunders’ giving these women the room to escalate, the event is unconvincing.

It is not until the epilogue we really get to see Mackowski explore the more subtle notes of her character, and more is the pity these moments couldn’t be found through the play. In a much smaller role, Calandro becomes the calm foil of the show as a young intern in the office. It’s through this character Weigh looks for a middle ground: the youthful eye not yet jaded by the world, optimistic for a future, and Calandro brings a lovely heart to her small part.

During Fringe time space is at a premium. But it is also disappointing as an audience member to watch a production struggle in the space it is in. Much of the lighting design through the 7:30pm show is marred by the ample natural light spilling into the space through the saw-tooth roof: the black-out pointless. Sitting above Adelaide’s best new pop-up Mexican bar, too, doesn’t help when it comes to sound of a buzzing crowd below.

The tragedy of a play like this is it will always be timely. These events, wherever they occur, make international headlines. While we may feel more protected by Australia’s gun laws, the reason these events hit everyone so hard is because they happen to people like us, in communities like ours. Wars today are too abstract for most of us. The lone shooter and the dead school children, tourists, shoppers, they all seem too close to home.

Every time they happen people try and explain them. Does the US tackle gun ownership? Will mental health reform fix everything? Is the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun a good guy with a gun? These questions, possibly, will cycle around forever. With 89 firearms owned for every 100 civilians in the United States, where is there to go for that country? And what are the chances Australia truly will never see a Port Arthur again?

With questions like these, of course it’s impossible to ask Weigh to have answers. And of course, these conversations, particularly in the US press, often get marred in extremes. Like a Fishbone faces a mammoth task to bring these conversations to the stage, but Weigh’s polerisation and Sanders’ tension make the work that much harder to engage with. Both production and script have their moments, yet in a debate that is so layered, so complex, Like a Fishbone lacks the nuance really needed to cut through.

Early Worx in Theatre and Art and Higher Ground East present Like A Fishbone: an argument and an architectural model by Anthony Weigh. Directed by Charles Sanders, designed by Jenn Havelberg. With Shannon Mackowski, Amy Victoria Brooks and Rebecca Calandro. At the Main Theatre, Higher Ground East, for the Adelaide Fringe until March 14. More information and tickets.