Adelaide Fringe 2013

Sage

0 Comments 22 February 2013

Sage

The set is the first thing about Chloe Eckert’s Sage to strike you. Family portraits and pages torn from novels form a web of words, spun from the crucial cliff top. The story that ensues upon the entrance of the play’s tortured protagonist, and the words used to tell it, are just as powerful and poetic as those pages seem to promise.

The play has a core cast of just two, but, thanks to its concern with mental illness, these two actors embody an array of emotional states that are as compelling as they are conflicting. The play opens on Grace (Melissa Martins) as she stands alone on a cliff top in a state of panic. This is relieved, if only momentarily, by the entrance of Charlie (Nic Cutts). What follows is an exploration, by each of the characters, of each other and themselves. The plot is compelling, not simply because Grace could hurl herself from the cliff at any moment, but because the dynamic of her relationship with Charlie evolves in a manner that captures your attention, and then fosters a deep empathy. Most importantly, however, having captured her audience, Eckert knows how to use sudden turns of mood and haunting ambiguity to engage them.

It is easy to see why Eckert’s script won the Flinders University Young Playwrights Award. The dialogue darts between poetry and humour with intuitive rhythm. Though at a few points the script’s comedic side descends into cheap one-liners, the majority employs brilliant absurdist humour in a Beckett-esque fashion. However, it is the emotional and dramatic sequences that give the piece its power. These are reminiscent of Sylvia Plath’s poetry, at times directly quoting her. Where many young writers would have abused the poems, Eckert blends such works as Mad Girl’s Love Song seamlessly into her own.

Sage is also Eckert’s first foray into directing. It is an admirable debut. Just as the interplay between the two core characters is crucial, so too is the interplay between Grace and the lighting and sound. The lighting perfectly matches Grace’s mental state. The cerebral, non-diegetic sound directly interacts with her, offering us a window into her tortured subconscious and allowing the audience to better understand the surreal horror of her mind. Eckert has ensured that every part of the production aids in the audience’s understanding of Grace and Charlie’s mental states. Even the three minor characters that comprise the rest of the ensemble exist purely as a humorous contrast to Grace’s mind.

But Sage is, at heart, a play about two, main characters, and of these two, Nic Cutts as Charlie is the stand-out. He takes advantage of everything the script offers. Enabling the play to draw laughs one moment and sombre attention the next. Though most of the crucial lines belong to Grace, Cutts gives the most haunting monologue of the night, perfectly embodying all the pain of his character. He ensures that the interplay within Charlie is just as powerful as his interplay with Grace.

For all its successes, what Sage’s publicity prides itself on is avoiding the clichés of tackling mental illness. Owing as much as it does to Plath and Beckett this was always going to be a challenge. However, Sage does manage it, and it is Grace’s backstory that makes this possible. She comes from ‘the perfect family’ and yet she is empty. No past trauma led her to the cliff, but there she is. Grace simply is the way she is. Her ‘white picket fence’ background is not merely refreshing, but makes her relatable to a large portion of the theatre-going audience. Her past is not one of melodrama. It is crucial in that it is mundane. In this respect, Sage fulfils its promise.

Sage is a piece that hangs constantly on the precipice. Yet this constant threat would not be as compelling without the play’s well-crafted writing and powerful performances. This, its first season, is particularly short. As fleeting as the lives it depicts. But these lives, and this play, are definitely worth experiencing.

Sage is on at 7.00pm tonight (22nd of February) Century Theatre, Immanuel College, 32 Morphett Rd, Novar Gardens, as part of the Adelaide Fringe. (Running time 60 minutes)

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