Presented by Independent Theatre Company
Reviewed 16 Nov 2018
Set in Altamont, North Carolina in 1916 the play takes place, for the most part, in the Dixieland Boarding House. Thought to be mostly autobiographical Thomas Wolfe’s story, adapted by Keth Frings, is complex and focuses on family relationships. The central figure Eugene Gant, played by Will Cox, is caught in the frequent trap of adolescence unable to move forward, wanting to forge a path in the world but unable to break free. Cox inhabits this role with empathy and sincerity.
Director Rob Croser has assembled a strong cast for this complex play, able to tackle the difficult subjects and the underling subtlety. The matriarch of the family Eliza, Eugene’s mother, is a driven woman. Needing security above all else she loses sight of what is important in her life, valuing money and its acquisition above her family. Bronwyn Ruciak’s portrayal of Eliza gives the character all the strength whilst showing an underlying vulnerability. David Roach is engaging as her husband W.O. Gant, stonemason, drinker and an infuriating husband and father. Eliza’s confidant in her property dealing and other things, Will Pentland, is given a sound character by Malcolm Walton, providing a good contrast to her husband. Eugene’s brother Ben (Jonathan Johnston) is his only real ally encouraging him to pursue his life. Johnston gives this character depth and compassion. Helen, their sister, is Eliza’s lackey, forced to run the boarding house, helping her mother, frustrated and unappreciated. Naomi Voortman does well in this part as does Thomas Chew as her husband.
Trish Hendrick plays Mrs Marie Pert, a boarder, who is often the focus of Eliza’s ire as she is Ben’s support, seen as unsuitable not only because she is married but she may entice him away. Eugene also has a dalliance with a short-term boarder, Laura James, who becomes the catalyst for Eugene to change. Madeleine Herd gives this role a complex mix of innocence and knowledge. Pam O’Grady is also in the cast, playing Mrs Clatt a busybody boarder and Madame Elisabeth a well-heeled brothel keeper. As Madame, O’Grady was in her element giving the character all the sass it needed. Louis Henbest playing Jake Clatt also plays a third son Luke returning from the navy giving each part individuality. David Rapkin gave a well-measured performance as Doctor Maguire the family physician. Ashleigh Meriel and Alan Munn also play boarders.
The set was the usual fine offering from designers Croser and Roach with a nicely nuanced lighting plot from Bob Weatherly. Despite the heavy subject matter the play had its lighter moments and is yet another fine offering from Independent Theatre.
Reviewed by Fran Edwards
Venue: Goodwood Institute Theatre
Season:16 – 24 Nov 2018
Duration: 2.5 hr
Tickets: Adult $37.50 Conc $32.50 Student $20.00 Group (10) $250.00