Under the Influence

Mon 8th – Fri 12th August 2011

reviews

Ramin Sabi

at 13:04 on 10th Aug 2011

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Ron Parker’s original series of monologues for the American High School Theatre Festival has got something to say for it when considering the level of maturity and emotion it awoke from school-level performers. Unfortunately its length and laboured point makes it far from enjoyable to sit through.

Starting with a rather embarrassing reading in unison of the underlying message of the play: “We’re like pieces on a mobile. If one part is off, everything else moves with it.” Substance abuse most hurts those connected to the abuser. Following this we have ten monologues in which the young performers will talk to the disembodied persona, the abuser, in a variety of different guises: alcoholic parents, glue-sniffing teenagers, the mother who mentally disabled her daughter by taking drugs when pregnant, a boyfriend on crack, a drunk-driver, a speed-pushing cheerleader, an acid dealer and an alcoholic husband. Even in a quick summary one can tell that the play is repetitive. Most of the monologues are at least a few minutes too long and there are too many of them, which takes away from the effect that some of the real emotional power that parts of the text have to offer.

There are also questionable areas of fact and approach – would an acid dealer give free drugs to a seven-year-old just for the fun of it? Wouldn’t a violent and drunk father go further than just ‘intimidating’ his teenage daughter? Is it really all right to use the word ‘retarded’ repeatedly? While these questions exist, for the most part they don’t affect the course of the play.

The idea of the abuser in each period being disembodied off-stage, occasionally speaking in (frankly quite unnecessary) moments of actual dialogue in the midst of some monologues, is a clever and well-executed effect. The interpretive dance each performer does between each monologue is not such a desired effect. For the most part these sequences are unnecessary and are not performed with the precision to work as they are likely intended, with the exception of mimed juggling after the final monologue.

The cast does put on a very impressive show considering their age. They deal with issues that must be hard for them, and for the large part we do believe that the performers are seriously moved. Shaylene Curtis and Deja Ceruti are for me the stand-out performers. They both manage to engage with a very deep emotional level that is more believable in their performance as they manage to show restraint and subtlety. Ceruti is all the more impressive as she plays a more mature figure, a wife whose husband is destroyed by drinking, even more convincingly than all the other actors portrayed people their own age. While much of the acting was good, we did often get recourse to the idea that being angry means shouting loudly and little else. Some of the actors also ought to work on their diction, as some words often were swallowed.

Despite the problems of a tired format and a slightly shaky cast, every monologue roused an honest round of applause from the captive audience that many shows would beg to receive. While this isn’t a production I would recommend, it certainly deserves credit for the maturity and depth of much of the performance.

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Olivia Edwards

at 15:02 on 10th Aug 2011

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I left Under the Influence in no doubt that the students from Nanakuli High and Intermediate School Performing Arts Center are a very talented bunch. However, their choice of play did little other than showcase the fact that the cast could alternately shed tears and express pure hatred on demand. Ron Parker’s piece about substance abuse told from the perspective of the addicts’ loved ones is comprised of a series of monologues addressed to the absent addict and punctuated by interludes of interpretive dance exploring each character’s story through choreographed movement. It was a show more suited to a school auditorium in which proud parents are happy to sit through a sequence of lengthy monologues while excitedly anticipating their own child’s few minutes under the spotlight. While I admire Nanakuli High’s decision to stage a show with a strong moral, educational agenda, for these young actors to really stand out at the Fringe, they would need to have brought along a more complex, more compelling, more demanding production, which they would have been more than capable of pulling off.

All ten cast members tackled a wide range of extremely sensitive issues with an impressive degree of sensitivity and maturity. These issues included the effects of drug addiction on an unborn child, the strain that alcoholism places on the addict’s family and sexual abuse, and director Robin Kitsu should be incredibly proud of the fact that each individual was able to bring such strong emotion to their roles, with many of them visibly crying on stage. I was particularly impressed by Gabriel Mendonca’s understated performance as Jim, a young man struggling to overcome the pent up anger he feels at how his father’s alcoholism has affected himself and his sister. If Mendonca worked on annunciating his words at certain points in his monologue, particularly at points when he raises his voice, his performance would be even more powerful. Susan Bowyer’s performance as Kathy, the grief stricken mother who lost her child in a car accident involving a drink driver, was also incredibly powerful. Her mannerisms, her tone of voice, her facial expressions conveyed a depth of sadness that was almost painful to watch.

My main criticism of this production is its choice of play. It was relentlessly hard-hitting (all monologues were spoken directly at the audience, as though we were the addicts in need of reprimand) and each character’s oscillations between tears and furious shouting made the production too repetitious. I sincerely hope that this talented group of actors continue to perform and go on to bigger things in years to come.

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