party in pieces

keith gallasch, virginia baxter: team mess, killing don

An occasional table displays copies of Currency Press playscripts—by David Williamson et al—a casual altar to an education in Australian drama. Meanwhile on the floor, Team MESS, graduates of Wollongong University, shambolically go through the motions of a contemporary Don’s Party as if hosted by the Y Generation and gutted of familiar characters and anything resembling a plot.

There are sagging couches, tacky decorations, skerricks of rapidly disappearing snacks and a bathtub full of beer. There's an unwieldy speech of thanks and welcome, calculatedly short on closure. Someone takes to the microphone and sings off-key with confident abandon. From time to time, we’re drawn to a cocoon in the middle of the room where performers appear to be engaged in private conversation. They’re giving nothing away.

Later, a couple in a fevered tussle move diagonally across the space winding and roping themselves into a tangle of twine and desire as the gear comes off—they collapse helplessly onto a mattress on the floor. The singer grabs the microphone again. This time attempting to whip up some enthusiasm with fabulous empty whoops and come-on’s across the opening chords, but every time he's about to lock into synch with the karaoke accompaniment the track changes and he's trapped in a loop of false starts, the comedy turning to the agony of endurance…and we drift away, leaving to him his plight and his barely flagging commitment.

Before the Australian playscript altar, there's a convincing display of team barfing following a binge-drinking demo. Soon we're watching the classic video of Cory Worthington Delaney blithely surviving the Today Tonight third degree with a pitch for himself as a party planner. Finally, a pale, thin youth strips to the waist and buries his head in the wall to provide the projection screen for a set of desultory suburban family snaps. In the event's sole cathartic moment he is slapped by another party guest, and we watch as the impression of the hand on his skin slowly fades. The party's over, the food's gone, most of the drink has been drunk, the balloons artfully released now and then, sit high above, lonely, pushing against the ceiling.

I wrote to one of Team MESS, Malcolm Whittaker, asking about the work's origins. He replied in part: “Don's Party was initially introduced as an in-joke around the beginnings of the project when [we were] asked to submit a working title. During development though the play came to represent something almost allegorical to our project. A piece of nostalgia from the Australian theatre canon, memorialised and continually produced out of this sense of nostalgia, a museum piece stuck in a vacuum. Important in its time, redundant now.” However, he does goes on to say that specific connections with Williamson's play evaporated as the work evolved, save for reference to it in the title. However, the preoccupation with recollection remained: “Our subject was remembrance itself, somewhere between a celebration and a lamentation of memory and nostalgia—personal, global, cultural and theatrical.”

In performance Team MESS certainly deliver on conviction and Killing Don has its moments, including those that query the nature of recollection—the traces that are photographs, songs, the touch of flesh. But as a series of loosely segued live art routines comprising party pieces of variable quality for an audience as bemused guests it's short on cohesion and vision if nonetheless entertaining and intriguing in itself. Like the food, there’s not quite enough to get your teeth into. You expect, from the show's title and the table of playscripts, some kind of commentary on Don’s Party. But instead of, say parody or critique, you get something quite lateral; the play was merely a starting point and finally unimportant. Perhaps that's an apt realisation of a younger generation's disenchantment with the iconic work of another. Like many a party, Killing Don's a hit and miss affair, but you're glad you went, if not quite sure why.

Team MESS, Killing Don, Evolution of a Memory, conceived & directed by Dare Gill, Travis Hodgson, Luke Holmes, Same Kinetic, Frank Amino, Georgie Meagher, Natalie Randall, Malcolm Whittaker; Performance Space, CarriageWorks, Feb 25-28

RealTime issue #90 April-May 2009 pg. web

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2009
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