Thomas's Rant

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Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler

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Plot: in a terrace house in Carlton, a group of friends mainly comprising two Melbourne bar-maids and two labourers from ‘up north’, meet for the summer. Every year they do this – it is a tradition. This year, they have grown too old. The tradition has become tired and people no longer interact as they once did. Both recent changes in relationships and the weight of nostalgia works to make this the last summer the group get together. The play progresses from unrealistic expectation, to disillusionment and disappointment, to outright disintegration of the bonds between the characters.

Often considered the “classic Australian play”, I must admit I find its so-called “realism” uninspiring and its plodding exposition (in the form of nostalgic remembrances) is necessary – the play is essentially ABOUT this – but hardly enjoyable.

The play is, I think unfairly, recommended as the paragon of Australian realism – this is “the first time Australians truly saw themselves on the stage” etc. The play certainly comes from the uninspiring and unimaginative school of realistic theatre but I believe its strengths are in its construction as a tragedy: while striving for the impossible, the characters, who happen to be Australian for once, bring about their own downfall.

The negativity of the play is as grim and real as life’s disappointments which suggests other theatre classics such “Death of a Salesman” and “Waiting for Godot”. Neither of these works are a bundle of laughs either and are not intended to be. They are releasers of repressed anguish and are therefore cleansing.

My gripe with “The Doll” is this: I agree it is a work of high art in its tragic form but I find its actual execution so glaringly lacking in artistry (in any real technique) that it simply does not measure up to these other works. A sign of an artist’s maturity lies perhaps in is his ability to dispense with plodding narration, with statements of blunderingly everyday insignificance, and audience-taxing schematics – to discover what is true and real, and to dispense with all the muddying unimportant superficial appearances. In other words, to present raw psyche – what is essential for the psyche to grasp the drama – and to dispense with the quotidian and mundane. To gracefully and significantly cut to the chase. I feel “The Doll” fails to do this.

Written by tomtomrant

26 February 2009 at 7:49 am

Posted in the arts

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