Sadly, Eating Icecream With Your Eyes Closed demonstrates that a good play needs to be written with more than good intentions. Icecream comes with a lot of worthy ideas, and it is unfortunate that the playwright doesn’t trust the audience to find them for itself, but marks them with giant arrows, starting with the title as the none too subtle and overarching theme that runs through the play.
It is not giving too much away to say that the plot, for want of a better word, focuses on three ocker Aussie blokes from different backgrounds who meet in a bus shelter on the fringes of a small rural town. They talk and brawl their way through the night towards some sort of understanding while waiting for the bus that is their escape route to where they want to go, or from what they want to leave behind.
As someone for whom the blokey, ocker culture is alien corn, I was looking forward to getting some insights into this other world. So it could just be my ignorance when I say that the dialogue simply does not ring true, and that I suspect that that culture may be as alien to the playwright as it is to me. I would be happy to stand corrected on this, but overridingly I was reminded of that element in some detective novels, where an expert analysing an anonymous note points out that while the writer is trying to sound like someone who is barely literate, they’ve got all the punctuation correct, as well as the spelling of certain key words.
Nonetheless, it should be noted that this play by David Brown certainly must speak more positively to at least some others, as it has been shortlisted for both the 2003 Patrick White Playwrights’ Award and the 2004 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. And it has been extremely well served in director Jean-Marc Russ’s production, including sound performances from its cast of three. Aaron Pedersen plays Indigenous Macca with warmth and sensitivity, and does his best with the message shtick that his character has been assigned to beat periodically through the play. Lucas Stibbard is suitably wussy as the persecuted and would-be runaway Dayne, and Hayden Spencer does Doug, the bemused and brawling wild card, with an appealing mix of gusto and pathos.
Bruce McKinven has designed a most suitable shelter for the brief encounter between these three protagonists, and it is permeated with a sense of the isolating elements of rural and remote life. So it is interesting to read about the audience that Brown envisaged for this play. “I actually wrote this play,” he says, “for the person who doesn’t go to theatre in Australia. The Australia Council identified this person as a white Anglo-male, 40+ and lives in a regional area. So I actually wrote this play for him.” Meanwhile, back in the city, the snappy dialogue generated a lot of laughs among the first night audience, and from comments overheard at the end of the production, many enjoyed the play overall. I didn’t, but then I’m about as far from a white-Anglo-male-40+-and-living-in-a-regional-area as you are likely to meet.