Sam Shepard’s one act play, Red Cross was a theatrical highlight at the Off Broadway Festival Hub during the 2016 Sydney Fringe Festival, which runs throughout September.
Kerri Glasscock Festival Director articulates September “is a time to celebrate the wonderful cultural offerings your local artists produce year round, so this year we are putting the sparkle back into our city’s nightlife.”
Arrive. Devise. Repeat. Is an independent, Sydney based theatre collective and as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival, presented Sam Shepard’s Red Cross.
Actor, author, screenwriter and director Sam Shepard (b.1943) is a celebrated American playwright, acclaimed for his full length plays but equally acknowledged for his one act plays. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play Buried Child.
Red Cross immediately drew the audience into the struggles and conflicts expressed in the unsettling dialogue.
The neuroses within each character are constructed to challenge and disorient the audience.
As the characters disclose their obsessions a bewildering credibility evolves that is strengthened by the peculiar detachment in the interactions of the characters.
Jim (Henry Hulme) is plagued by lice draining his blood. He explains to the Maid.
“I’ve had crabs for about ten years now and it gets worse every year. They breed very fast. It’s nice, though.
It’s like having two bodies to feed.”
His bizarre reaction to parasites and strange delight in being the host to these bloodsuckers is celebrated in his conversation with the Maid as he describes the details of this bodily infestation.
Henry Hulme’s performance is totally convincing. The incongruity of his character and peculiar responses and interactions to both the Maid and Carol are executed with clarity and the demanding physical stamina required.
Carol (Emma Throssell) is perversely terrified her head might explode. She defines the explicit aspects and precise points of the place and sequence of events that could precipitate her whole head snapping off and rolling down the hill and becoming “a huge snowball” that will ultimately “kill a million people.”
Carol delivers a much tormented oration documenting the specifics and irrational scope of her fixation.
Her imagined fear of a skiing accident is symbolic of her genuine agony and tortuous obsession with a macabre death, where red blood stains a white landscape of snow.
Emma Throssell sustains her long speech modulating her voice to create tension and effectively convey the emotion that underpins her character’s inexplicable preoccupation.
The Maid (Genevieve Muratore) is almost lulled into experiencing her fear of drowning by Jim. Gasping for air and floundering in imagined water she is anguished as she narrates her fear.
“Nobody able to at home because I’m drowning out here! Nobody knowing where I am. Everybody forgetting my name! And I’m getting worse all the time! I’m sinking more and more! With seaweed up my nose and tangled all around me and I can’t see a thing in the night!”
Genevieve Muratore has intelligently immersed herself in delving deep into the character of the Maid. Her interpretive skills have perfected a credible and persuasive performance bringing this complex character to life.
The impeccable directing by Victor Kalka ensured all aspects of the production were unified and his vision of the playwright’s intention was delivered with finesse.
The minimalist style of the production, the white back wall, the simple structure of the two single wooden beds and the subtle white and grey garments on the characters was totally effective. Even Carol’s hair was highlighted with shades of grey.
The production had the ambience of an abstract painting. The horizontal lines of the bed and often the bodies of the actors gave cohesion and fluidity to the visual components of stage and costume design.
The simplicity of the staging fluently contrasted and intensified the dimension of thinking and questioning provoked by the dialogue. It did not distract from the internal conflict of the protagonists.
The sensitive direction of dialogue and gestures was coupled with astute sequences of movement essentially creating the essence of choreography.
Sound Design by Ryan Devlin added resonance to the tension and generated elements that informed the mood of the play and deepened the character’s anxieties.
This well-crafted direction provided the platform for very intimate performances from the cast.
In Sam Shepard’s plays Conor McPherson writes in his introduction to Sam Shepard Fifteen One-Act Plays, his “characters struggle alone; they struggle with others who are mirror images of themselves, or with others who appear their exact opposite only to switch places halfway through, become each other, and then continue to struggle.”
Red Cross leaves the audience asking questions, reflecting on the symbolism and feeling compassion for the incomprehensible suffering of the characters.
Victor Kalka’s interpretation of the script, perceptively defining the style, mood, pace and arc of action resulted in the artistic unity of this admirable theatrical performance.
Congratulations to the producer Tabitha Woo who has successfully mounted all aspects of this streamlined theatrical production.
Rose Niland, NSW Special Features, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016