!METRO ARTS: Think of ‘Room 328’ as a Neverland for the 21st Century. A space where lost men reside. We are those lost men: River Phoenix, James Dean, the guy throwing the first punch before the new lockout on a Saturday morning.
You have to love what is called ‘the Fringe’. I particularly like it when the work you find there makes no excuses and doesn’t use the term as a licence to be self indulgent. It’s the edge where the action happens. It’s an exciting/scary place where there are no guarantees. It’s where you find what’s coming next and is only defined by comparison to the ‘main stream’. Room 328
is the sort of show that makes you aware that people often dump sewage in the main stream and you only realise when something fresh changes your tastes.
is like a three course meal of masculinity washed down with a dozen beers and vomited up beside the kebab shop at 3am. It explores this strange place that men find themselves in today – lacking the depth of analysis that feminism has brought over the last century, what is masculine identity? The show projects the image of man as lost, or wanting to be lost, inhabiting a space that is ambiguous, searching but never finding, waiting for something to happen and that is what we find manifest in action in this new work. Upon entering this world the audience finds themselves constantly looking for purpose; entertained, yet disturbed; waiting for something that never really eventuates. The use of the iconic figures of James Dean and River Phoenix help reinforce this idea that one of the few things many men have in common is a strong self-destructive streak. Alcohol, violence, sexuality – what a piece of work is man.
Director Dan Santangelli enjoys blurring the line between actor and audience in this promenade piece, staging riotous action throughout the space with his cast of eight. “The show draws the audience in, then pushes them away only to draw them in again”, he says. Audience members join in the drunken game playing, dance with the actors in drag and assist in their demonstration of River Phoenix’s overdose. You want to play, but at the same time you want to keep your distance as these men don’t seem to know what they’re capable of, or what’s going to happen next. It may seem like the actors are being timid or uncertain at times, but to me it was simply reinforcing this ambiguity.
Promenade and audience interaction is always difficult – the audience is hesitant if the rules of the world they are entering are not made clear, or if they are unsure of how involved they can be. Then there’s always the possibility that one of them will upstage the actors, but the real challenge lies in how you make the audience perform and be watchable rather than simply becoming a mechanical device.
The cast work hard to engage a mostly reticent audience, but without constant, defined characters for the audience to relate to, it’s difficult. Their commitment however, cannot be questioned and it is in this that every one of them seduces the audience into playing along or staring in wonder. One moment that stood out was watching an audience member transfixed with the supine body of Rob O’Brien after he had demonstrated two minutes (counted out by the audience) of River Phoenix’s 8 minutes of convulsing before he died. It was like watching someone having a private moment at a funeral.
The cast are everything that you’d hope them to be for a show like this – physical, fearless, loud and effortlessly just being blokes (even Erica Field in her wild ranting “Y’know what’s f****d with this world? RULES” speech). Even though they come together for various moments, there is a sense of disconnection between them in the space, which just adds to the subtle discomfort felt by the audience.
Mike Willmet’s sound design is a beautiful cacophony of sound and music reminiscent of walking down the Brunswick Street mall on a Friday night with music and voices spilling out of pubs and clubs and washing over the moving detritus, staggering hurriedly to make the 3 am lockout. He mixes this live every night amid the chaos on stage, playing off the action like a pianist would the old silent movies.
This is the first showing of this piece developed by Santangelli and producer Genevieve Trace and it does show, but there is more than enough there to warrant further development and restaging. There is a lot of space in the piece which could be tightened up and driven through to a greater crescendo before the poignant end, making the structure seem less accidental, but without losing the unpredictability of the ride for the audience. The performances are excellent, although some of the pieces could’ve gone further into a more violent and anarchic extreme, but overall, Room 328
is good fun, provokes some deep thought and challenges the audience to meet the performers and the concept half way. It is a great new piece of theatre which leaves you feeling like you’ve had a night out with the boys – grinning, slightly intoxicated and a just little ashamed of yourself.
Directed by Daniel Santangeli
Presented by Allies of Metro and Genevieve Trace
Season: Tues 6 – Sat 10 July 2010
Preview: 7:30pm Thurs 1 – Sat 3 July 2010
When: Tues – Sat: 7:30pm
Where: The Galleries, Metro Arts
109 Edward Street, Brisbane
Tickets: Adults $20/ Conc. $16/ Preview $16/ Group (10+) $12
Bookings: 07) 3002 7100 or online