By Patricia Frazis
Last night, Runaway Balloon presented their second play, Someone Stole Dee Perse’s Tree (Dee Perse’s Tree, hereafter). Featuring an amazing cast of both newcomers and familiar faces, the real and ridiculous collided at the Subiaco Arts Centre in this witty exploration of connection, grief, and loneliness.
True to the title’s promise, someone has stolen Dee’s tree, so she plants a trap to get it back. But the play’s not really about the tree. Dee Perse’s Tree features five short, seemingly unconnected plays, each featuring a dynamic pairing of characters as they navigate a disconnected modern world. Kids making up dances at a sleepover, adults obsessing over a washed-up Disney Channel heartthrob, people struggling to connect with their parents, and a melting Baskin Robbins ice-cream cake create a feeling of nostalgia throughout the play, and with it a grief for what is lost. Meanwhile, the characters know something more is coming – some big, unnamed change, and this gives an edge to each interaction and forces to the fore the fleeting nature of time.
Things aren’t too bleak though. Pelican alumnus Rupert Williamson’s writing wittily explores the awkwardness of trying to make connections and friendships and regularly had me in fits of laughter at the sheer absurdity of these familiar interactions. Williamson ties together the ridiculous and the serious perfectly with a twist in the final moments that made the man sitting in front of me audibly gasp.
Although Runaway Balloon was founded by predominantly UWA graduates and former UDS members, much of the cast are WAAPA alumni. The uptight Meg who just wants her guac bowl back, played by Veronica Mistry (back from Los Angeles thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic) is intrigued and baffled by the trap-setting, tree-painting Dee Perse, played by Tegan Mulvaney. Another memorable pairing is Tamara Creasey as Kath and Daniel Buckle as Grant as they engage in a “para-social” relationship, despite neither of them being able to explain exactly what a para-social relationship is. And finally, Performing Arts WA’s Best Newcomer 2021 Courtney Cavallaro as Harriet and Allie brought a brilliant energy and playfulness to the stage, and Elise Wilson as Leslie matched her vibe perfectly as they transitioned together from children to young adults. From claiming to know celebrities, or being a Belieber, or reding the book club book, everyone is pretending something, and each pair pushes one another to drop the pretence and make real connections.
Unexpected pairings in an absurd comedy seem to be a theme for Runaway Balloon following their debut performance at Fringe 2020, Fun Times with Olive and No One Else, which paired a white-collar millennial with a sentient can of beans. Certainly, Runaway Balloon have lived up to the expectation of comedy in their new play, but they very sneakily snuck a scathing social commentary in with the comedy – and I absolutely loved it.
Lively, young actors have brought to life a lively, young production and I could not recommend it more. If you’re a fan of absurd, fun productions then this production for you. Although be warned, you will be thinking about it for a long time after you see it.
4.5 out of 5 Trees
Someone Stole Dee Perse’s Tree is on at the Subiaco Arts Centre until the 11th of September.
Image courtesy of Steph Forsyth