By Robert Hewett
With Jacki Weaver
You have to love this Jacki Weaver showcase.
Forget all the portentous stuff in the program notes about the idea of forgiveness, with its references to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, and the victims in Northern Ireland who have exonerated the perpetrators of the violence. This is an artificial moral gloss put on what is, essentially, a one-woman show that links seven different characters in the same story, a gloss that attempts to give the play more gravitas than it deserves.
As a piece of drama, let’s not over-praise it, but accept it for what it is – a popular commercial production starring one of Australia’s most popular commercial actors, a real audience pleaser, and deservedly so.
But let’s not dismiss it too readily, either, damning it for its shallow dialogue and caricatured characters, some of whom are even less subtle than Kath and Kim. Not every play that hits the stage has to be highbrow or deep-and-meaningful. There’s room in the theatre for The Australian Women’s Weekly version of tragedy and ruined lives, especially when it’s presented as delightfully as it is here, and why shouldn’t the Queensland Theatre Company get frothy every now and then? This is a lot more fun than they’ve given their audiences in a long time.
Jacki Weaver relishes every moment of her seven roles in The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead , and why shouldn’t she? It’s a dream vehicle for an actor as accomplished as this, and she plays everyone from a 4-year-old boy to an old woman with (almost) equal aplomb. She teases and flirts with her audience, playing directly to them and inviting them to join with her in what is basically a series of dress-ups, and they respond with enthusiasm, for she is absolutely beguiling. There’s no attempt to conceal the costume changes, which are all done on stage, although semi-concealed by a darkening of the lights, and as she comes on in yet another wig (at least one of them white, as well as the B, B and R of the title) there is often spontaneous applause, which she acknowledges with a wink or a shrug of the shoulder.
Yes, she knows how to seduce her audience and, as I said, you gotta love her for it.
The story is about a rather dull suburban woman, Rhonda Russell, who hears from her next-door-neighbour and so-called best friend Lynette that her husband, who has recently left her, is having an affair with the blonde in the cheap jewellery store in the local shopping centre. So angry is she that she goes off to aforesaid shopping centre and, more by accident than design, kills a blonde, who of course turns out to be the wrong woman, the partner of a lesbian doctor and biological mother of their IVF son Matthew (the cute little kid who keeps a lizard called Lily in a shoebox). Weaver plays all these characters as well as her ex-husband Graham and Mrs Carruthers, the old lady who looks after the little boy. There’s not enough time for any of them to be portrayed except in the sketchiest of terms, but in taking on the roles of seven different first-person narrators, Weaver invites the audience to flesh out for themselves the skeletons of the characters she presents, so we become, once again, part of the process of theatre-making.
It’s such a clever trick on the part of playwright Robert Hewett that it disarms all but the most curmudgeonly of critics, and although this production has been dismissed as slight and fluffy, I found it immensely entertaining. It didn’t arouse any deep emotions, or make me think very much about the issue of forgiveness – after all, the crime was manslaughter rather than murder, there was no premeditation, and the death occurred only because the victim slipped on a dropped ice-cream cone – but I was captivated the whole way through because of Weaver’s captivating performances and sheer versatility.
Don’t go expecting a masterpiece, but enjoy it for what it is. In spite of the self-important program notes, which were written by neither playwright nor director, so that lets them off the hook, the play offers us a tour-de-force from one of Australia’s most loveable actors, and a gentle reminder that there is no such thing as absolute truth, but as many different ways of seeing as there are participants in any drama.
So leave your high moral principles at home and enjoy already!
Directed by Jennifer Hagan
Designer Laurence Eastwood
Playing until 16 September 2006: Wednesday – Saturday 7.30pm, Tuesday 6.30pm matinees Wednesday 1pm, Saturday 2pm
Duration : 2 hours, with one interval