Family Matters by Dave Christner. Phoenix Players: Director Margaret Forster. Supported by the International Year of Older Persons. Belconnen Community Centre 8pm September 24, 25, 30 and October 1, 2; 2pm September 25, 26 and October 2, 1999. Seniors Card concession $9.
America's minor playwrights produce a continuing stream of light comedies with sincere themes, and this one will have older persons (I'm nearly one myself) rooting for our rights - to independent lives, freedom from rules laid down by our children, freedom from society's ageist assumptions.
Margaret Forster has a clear conception of the directing style this play needs, adjusting the references to politics and places to suit Australia and underplaying the characters to suit our sensibilities. On opening night this meant that pacing was a little slow, but there were some effective comic highlights such as the stylised statements of despair from Abby and her husband Dan about their respective mothers, Claudia and Sarah, and the mothers' drunken homecoming at 3am - to the announcement from their middle-aged children that they are "grounded". Janine O'Dwyer, Paul Mullins, Margery Ehnhuus and Fay Butcher formed an effective central ensemble who will surely spark as the season warms up.
An interesting element of the play is the weight given to the women, particularly widows needing to recreate themselves as separate individuals after conventional marriages - and the learning required by the middle-aged Dan in discovering in his mother's childhood experiences the cause of his need to escape her cloying attention and his limitations in loving his wife. Though the play is not well enough written to cope thoroughly with such deep matters, it certainly touched the first-night audience visibly if briefly.
Unfortunately the cameo suitor roles, played by Graham Bauerle, John Alsford and John McKinlay, are not well developed in the script but were adequately delineated to make the play work.
"Theatre is for everyone, young and old" writes Phoenix President Richard Niven, and this production lives up to the Players' ambition very well after many shows which have given young people enjoyment and opportunities to perform. Phoenix, now 10 years old, has settled nicely into its community theatre niche - look for The Wizard of Oz and Half a Sixpence in January and May 2000.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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