Image: Liam de Burca – Matt Young and Anna Burgess
In art and in life there are truths and there are ‘truths’. The former is a universal concept of pure objective fact – acceptable or otherwise -to all who cross its path. The latter is a more personal, subtle idea influenced by our individual subjective life experiences. Through Good-bye Miss Monroe, playwright Liam de Burca thoroughly examines both of these definitions of truth through the lens of American dance director, Jack Cole.
Good-bye Miss Monroe opens with Jack Cole waking from a drunken bender. He has been given an opportunity to write a memoir of his experiences in dance, and struggles between what he wants to write and what he feels will be deemed acceptable by his prospective publisher and his readership. As the show progresses, he conveys how important were the women he worked on and with in finding his own subjective truths as an artist. Without wanting to give away too much of the plot, it continues to follow him as his relationship with Hollywood becomes more and more difficult and he feels his role as a creator has become diminished.
The direction, also by Mr de Burca, was taut and set a solid pace for the show. This suited both the intensity of the characters and the desperation that was eventually felt by Cole. Set and costume design (Liam de Burca) and lighting (Michael Richardson) were appropriately simple but flawless with incidental music by Sally Bourne. Luke Volker‘s exceptional musical arrangements only add to his growing reputation as a fine composer, arranger and musical director.
Matt Young (Cole) is solid in his role – in fact, he has one of the finest and most consistent American dialects I have heard by an Australian actor (Matt is, in fact US-born but an Australian). He creates strong relationships with each of co-star Anna Burgess’ menagerie of characters, making clear how important Cole felt the concept of industry within dance was – specifically the value he placed upon sharing his experience with dancers to follow.
Apologies to Mr Young for incorrectly attributing him as an Australian actor when, in fact, he is American. No wonder our reviewer was impressed by his dialect! We have been taken to task by a reader and urged to ‘do our research.’ Feeling suitably chastised.
Cole is an enormous role – maybe it was opening night nerves – but some dropped lines momentarily distracted the audience. I was, however, quickly re-engaged in the story and, ultimately, these small slip-ups didn’t undermine the production. My favourite moment was the portrayal of Cole’s love of obscure time signatures. The combination of de Burca’s scripted poetry in this scene and Young’s desire to convey Cole’s obsession was brilliant. It’s a credible and invigorating depiction of the noted choreographer.
Anna Burgess is tasked with the challenge of playing the iconic women who both inspired and excited Cole. These include Marilyn Monroe, Mitzi Gaynor and Cole’s personal favourite, Rita Hayworth. The highlight for me was the comical yet surprisingly honest interpretation of Martha Graham. Ms Burgess is stunning in all of her roles and manages vocally and physically to create accented differences between them. Each of her individually realised characters brought a softness to the harshness of Jack Cole, balancing and, in a sense, keeping him from self-destructing.
It’s worth noting that the production was made possible through the crowd-funding platform, Pozible.com. It is stimulating to see audiences donating and contributing to produce quality independent theatre in Australia. As de Burca himself said after the performance, ‘We wouldn’t be here without it,’
Good-bye Miss Monroe is a fine play that raises some fascinating questions and investigates both the objective truth of dance and subjective truths of dancers. Inevitably audiences who have a personal relationship with dance and theatre will enjoy it more than lay theatre-goers. I did feel it lost its way a little towards the end of the production but, that being said, it is an exciting piece of theatre that is pleasurable and accessible to all. Get yourself along to see it.
Good-bye Miss Monroe runs at Metro Arts in Brisbane through and until 22nd March. Information on the website.
Rex first developed an interest in musical theatre after a successful stint with the rock band, The Maltese Falcon. Prior to that, he studied intellectual properties law and before that, studied and worked as a classical ballet dancer in Australia and abroad. Rex has a Diploma in Dance (Queensland Dance School of Excellence) and a wide array of dance credits which include Opera Queensland, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet and Hamburg Ballet. Rex is one of the first cohort of graduates from QCGU’s Musical Theatre course. During his studies there, Rex appeared as Lazar Wolf (Fiddler on the Roof), Doug (Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens) and as The Engineer (Miss Saigon). He will appear in his first professional musical theatre role as Lt. Brannigan in Harvest Rain’s 2014 production of Guys and Dolls.