The latest offering from UWA’S University Dramatic Society (UDS) is Aches & Lakes -which pairs two black comedies written and directed by Harry Goodlet and Rupert Williamson.
The first work, “By the Door to the Bonehouse”, by Williamson, presents a dark family reunion between a curmudgeonly writer, his equally misanthropic sister, and their ambiguously mortal brother. The play starts strong and doesn’t pause for breath as the central brother/sister relationship slowly implodes – like a John Cheever short story with bite. Dysfunction is played to both comic effect and emotional provocation in this examination of familial determinism and siblinghood, and excellent costuming and meticulously arranged set pieces transform it into a darker and uncanny work.
“The Many Funerals of Beckett Fitzgerald” follows, and traces the mourning period of a mortician after the loss of his wife. Though thematically it also grapples with family matters, this second work is more spritely and direct. It lacks the abstraction and ornamentation of the first, but works better as a comedy, never leaving more than a few lines between jokes. The dialogue here is razor-sharp, taken on carefully by its actors, and directed to perfection. The characters only fail when they attempt to over-explain their emotions, in the rare slow moment between fiery exchanges. This half of the show also features a live four-piece band, one Simpsons reference, and what looks to be a real coffin.
Acting was strong across the board. Of most note in the second work are Ben Thomas as the despondent Beckett Fitzgerald, and Nick Morlet as the quietly hilarious priest. In the first, the show is stolen by Tim Lorian in his detestable simulacrum of Bernard Black, and quietly held up by Giacomo Groppoli as the living deceased. Lauren Meyer is perhaps the most versatile on stage, swinging erratically and perfectly between all states of every character. Mitch Strawser is excellent both in his full role in the second piece and in the comic addendum to the first, which acts as an absurd palette cleanser.
In their choice of the double-bill format the playwrights work with extreme taste. There are no hinges between the two pieces, no cumbersome references to the other work, and no awkward attempts at continuation of process or argument. There are, however, subtle reciprocities between the two which work quietly to the betterment of the viewer. Each reflection on death and family in the second play necessarily ripples through the first, forcing the wild differences in style and tone to yield in the face of more universal considerations. Watching the second play illuminates the first so as to inspire the desire for a re-viewing, which would ironically only reveal further compliments to the second, and beg a further re-viewing. In this way the two plays revolve around each other in a perfect and infinite symbiosis. Snakes and Ladders, Aches and Lakes.
Words by Harry Sanderson
Aches & Lakes runs until 17 September at the Dolphin Theatre, with a starting time of 7:30pm. Tickets available here.