The Curtain by Daniel Keene is set in the house of a middle-aged widow. She has chosen to let rooms to two elderly gents. Contact is often more incidental than sought after, especially for the landlady. All residents find a certain safety in domestic patterns with near strangers. Yet, sooner or later, things have to change.
The widow is Ada (Milijana Cancar). She moved to this small town out of deference to her husband, and hasn’t enjoyed her stay. Her first boarder was Francis (Paul Weingott), a white-haired and quiet man who has been in the house, on and off, for five years.
Grey blowhard Leon (Gil Tucker) gets around with a walking stick. He has lived in Ada’s house for three years. He likes to talk, and tends to throw random facts at Francis rather than engage in real conversation. The pair might pass time in the house together, say playing cards, but they are not so close.
The first half hour of the play earned some laughs as Leon’s wisecracking antagonised the put-upon Francis. Yet, I found myself prompted to recall an underwhelming production of Hotel Sorrento. That experience caused me to find a 2014 essay on The Australian Bad Play by Jana Perkovic.
Perkovic observed certain features of the “Australian Bad Play” (ABP), including “no plot”. I recall hearing Keene on a radio interview say that he was not particularly interested in plot. It’s fair to say that not so much happens in The Curtain.
More than that though, Perkovic noted that the ABP tends to eschew conflict, and not subject its characters to real difficulty: “If the playwright allows their characters to exist in a world in which nothing happens to them, they remain character embryos.” Perkovic’s essay seems to anticipate a number of features of this play.
Our three characters seem to pass the time, dramatic events are referred to, not seen. There’s an attempt to upend the world when Ada decides to sell up and leave, which would make the men homeless.
But, both seem in good-enough health and somewhat vigorous – perhaps this is a flaw in Beng Oh’s direction, aided by Tucker’s unconvincing use of that walking stick. As the men were homeless before, we can fairly easily believe that they will just find somewhere else to live.
Rather than present us with events of gravity, instead the play seems to invite the audience to imagine that the work has weight, say by recognising that homelessness is a bad thing. At around 90 minutes, the play travels slowly and doesn’t progress very far. Even though believability could be strained, the performances saved this from being as uninspiring as it could have been.
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 27 February 2020 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 15 March 2020
Information and Bookings: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com
Image: Paul Weingott, Milijana Cancar and Gil Tucker feature in The Curtain – photo by Theresa Harrison
Review: Jason Whyte