REVIEW: The Daniel Schlusser Ensemble’s MENAGERIE

A daring exploration of the essence of a life

By Christine Moffat

Menagerie is a composite of many ideas, combining the real and imagined life and companions of playwright Tennessee Williams. This is experimental theatre, bordering on performance art, something that the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble has become known for. A circus of characters in and around a small, seedy shack create a cacophony of noise and movement. It’s a risky combination: when it worked, it created sublime theatrical experiences. When it didn’t, the result was prettily arranged tableaux better suited to photography.

Menagerie

There is no arc or emotional journey within this show. This type of experimental work is aiming for more than a good story: it is seeking the essence of an event, or in this case, a life. Through a controlled mayhem, director Daniel Schlusser weaves six incredibly capable actors into a tragically beautiful tapestry. Throughout the piece, the cast became a dysfunctional family. Each performance seemed to exploit the personal strengths of each actor. Josh Price (Williams) and Zahra Newman (Ozzie) both delivered powerful, potentially dominating performances. Price was particularly interesting as the many dishevelled versions of Williams. These larger roles were tempered and complimented by the subtle work of Kevin Hofbauer (Frank) and Edwina Wren (Rose). Jane Badler (Edwina) and Karen Sibbing were erratic, tragic and hilarious, and owned the audience more than once.

The set, designed by Dale Ferguson, was almost a character in itself. It consisted of the claustrophobic hut, surrounded by an assortment of rough amenities that suggested both squalor, and the enmeshed, suffocating family that plagued the real Williams. Although not emotionally affecting in the way a traditional theatre piece would be, Menagerie achieves a sense of truth about Williams’ internal world that you instinctively believe. The ensemble appear to have taken what is known about Williams the artist and worked backwards to present a valid hypothesis of how that complex man was created. This achievement indicates the method in their mayhem.

Menagerie (part of NEON Festival of Independent Theatre)
Venue: MTC Southbank Theatre, The Lawler
Dates: 18 to 26 May 2013
Show times: Tues – Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm (duration 90mins + interval)
Tickets: $25
Bookings: 03 8688 0800 or www.mtc.com/neon

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