The Dazzle – Meraki Arts Bar (NSW)
Written by Richard Greenberg
Reviewed by Juliana Payne
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Presented by Corvus Arts Theatre Meraki Arts Bar, Sydney 17 November – 3rd December Tickets: https://meraki.sydney/whats-on/
Images by Clare Hawley
Polonius asks Hamlet what he is reading, and Hamlet replies “Words, words, words!” to taunt the old man. The Dazzle gives us floods of words, oceans of dialogue, intricately crafted and crammed together rather like the hoards of junk that end up in the main characters’ apartment. But, unlike the junk, the language is filled with marvellous gems of wit, insight, humour and tragedy, sometimes in the very same sentence. This play is all about the words, and how words are all we have at the end of the day. In both the way we connect with others and the many ways in which we cut off from others, words and language are the tools we use, the weapons we wield and – often too late – the comfort we offer.
The plot is thin, simply providing a coat hanger for the richer garments that hang off it. In 1947 the bodies of two old reclusive brothers, Homer and Langley Collyer, were found in their junk-stuffed apartment. Richard Greenberg rewinds the timeline to their youth, and has written a version of how this ignominious end may have come about. The brothers are already distinctively eccentric (the neighbours’ kids throw stones at them), and then one evening a lovely young woman intrudes into their self-constructed retreat…
This is where the fulsome, complex, and layered script comes into its own. All the characters have far too much to say, and as we accustom ourselves to the rhythm and cadence of their convoluted speeches, we realise how much of what we say is really to hide or deflect from the truth. The climax of the play for all of them is reached when they have ceased to kid themselves, and each stare into their own abyss – with varying levels of acceptance or horror.
Don’t get me wrong though – despite the bleakness, the play is pretty hilarious. The Dazzle is set in in an old New York apartment between the wars, and has the tone and style of a fast-paced Howard Hawks comedy. The witty one-liners, insults and comebacks flow thick and fast, even though we realise the humour is a cover, a disguise for the deep traumas, regrets and yearning that lie beneath. It’s an Oscar Wilde versus Noel Coward version of Duelling Banjos. One of Homer’s best lines is, “We don’t have servants, every two weeks an old blind lady comes in to spit on the dust…”
Steve Corner as Homer is outstanding and arguably has the most lines and the toughest part to play; he’s mastered the dark comic styles of Clark Gable and William Powell rolled into one. Meg Hyeronimus as Milly is wonderful to watch; her brittle, brilliant Gilded-Age presence sparkles when she first enters their lives, and her portrayal of the changed Millie much later is utterly convincing. Alec Ebert as Langley provides the weaker foil to Homer’s bluster, but possibly less shouting may improve the character.
It’s a play for lovers of language, word play, wit, and dark, dark comedy; you will be dazzled.
Director Jane Angharad has been busy this year with Albion and For the Grace of You I Go, amongst other things, and she made best use of the tiny, exposed set. The lighting was unfortunately one-dimensional – it was either on or off, and way too bright when it was on. Given the need to portray a dark cramped junk-laden apartment, some slight dimness would have been welcome.
I recommend this play for the actors’ sheer virtuosic achievement of delivering their voluminous lines with all the right emphasis and feeling. It’s a play for lovers of language, word play, wit, and dark, dark comedy; you will be dazzled. I’ll let Homer have the last well-deserved word: “We are having a grand success tonight, Lang. We have gone from the bottom to the top in the neighbours’’ estimation. Before they reviled us as scum, and now they resent us as gentry.”
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Cast – Alec Ebert, Steve Corner, Meg Hyeronimus
Director – Jane Angharad
Stage Manager – Alex Liang
Set & Costume – Aloma Barnes
Lighting – Catherine Mai
Sound – Johnny Yang
Set Builder – James Smithers
Dialect Coach – Tim Kopacz
Intimacy Coordinator – Steven Ljubović
Producers – Alec Ebert and Emma Wright
Sponsor – AFTT (Academy of Film, Theatre and Television)
Accessibility Note: Please be aware that due to the age and structural limitations of the building, the MainStage theatre is not wheelchair accessible.