Monday, January 01, 2007

Turbine at BATS Theatre

I saw the production “Turbine” at BATS theatre on it’s closing night, 16th December, 2006. The show was written and performed by the New Zealand award-winning ensemble SEEyD Theatre Company. It was a thrill to witness a great ensemble at work. They also wrote the script together and ensemble member Tim Spite directed it.

“Turbine” promoted itself as a political play by promising to present two sides to the controversial issue of wind farming. Is this not a done deal? Is not wind farming good? I lived in Brooklyn for four months and every morning I opened my drapes to a view of the giant white wind turbine, what I perceived as a symbol of pride for New Zealand. Doesn’t it make sense to use the wind? Isn’t this a great way to solve our polluting energy crises? It’s already here.

The program for “Turbine” provided an insight into the script-writing process by the cast members. Before the show a woman standing next to me said, “If I had read this before, I would never have come.” She was referring to the two bits in the program about the director fondling one of the fellow female members. I suppose it was meant to be funny, but it was adolescent and border sexual harassment -- except possibly to thirteen-year-old boys. Let’s turn the table. What if the program notes said that they rehearsed different bits and then “Rachel starts fondling Tim inappropriately.”? If this is funny?

What “Turbine” did portray was a high-energy dysfunctional family. Not just your every day mom and dad and sister and brother, but a whiney bunch of people who could only see their own point of view including the autistic son, my favorite character in the play. “Turbine” is about a family eroding at the edges with each visit by the mean corporate man who tries to convince the family wind farming is good for everyone. Well, isn’t it? What could possibly be the other side? The characters went on and on that they had grown up with this view, it was their memories...and they didn’t like change.

As I write this, I am overwhelmed by the sound of a helicopter over my roof about to land a block away at Metropolitan Hospital in Newtown where I live. The noise is disturbing, but I’m glad it’s there. Doesn’t it benefit everyone?

Not the same as destroying the view you grew up with? Get over it. How many people who complain about loosing their million dollar views with wind turbines, to be installed on an already raped landscape for farming with dotted animals for food, are driving SUV’s and can afford energy at any cost? Tim Spite says in the program, at what point are we willing to compromise? Compromise what? Turbines yes, but not in my backyard?

Back to the story. The autistic son was the most interesting and beautiful part of the play for me. It took a few scenes for me to adjust to the mother character looking younger than the son. Why can young actors play older characters but it doesn’t work the other way around? Is there a play where an “older” actor plays younger? How many are women? Are you ever too old to play Juliet? (Just kidding, I would turn it down.) If we can accept young playing old, why not old playing young? One example that comes to mind is Susan Sarandon in the film, “Anywhere But Here.” Good book, lousy film. Sarandon was 50 when she played the 30-something single mother character. It seemed miscast but maybe this is only true because I read the book before I saw the movie. I once asked Sarandon for advice for women actors over 40 and her answer was insightful (she used the “F” word twice), but that’s another story (I hate it when people say that.)

Tim Spite gave the audience a beautiful portrayal of an autistic person in a realistic and sympathetic fashion with humour. Whenever this character was on the other members of the ensemble, Emma Kinane, Rachel Forman and Nick Dunbar, were at their best. This is a hard working ensemble. They played multiple characters with great talent, with the exception of the mother’s affair. It was not believable that a daughter would get angry with her mother for lying in the past because she shagged someone who wasn’t daddy. (Like I’m going to tell my daughter I’m going out to meet my lover.) But sex is always welcome in a play and the best sex in Turbine was Tim as the autistic man inappropriately pleasing himself in front of others because inappropriate behavior is part of the definition of autism.

My own experience of autism and sex was as a witness to David growing up in my brother’s family. When David’s hormones kicked in, he discovered sexual gratification. He called it ‘frogging’. David liked to frog and when he wanted to do it he called out, “frog frog” and my brother took him to the garage where he frogged and then he would come back to the dinner table and we would all continue our meal, including David who was less disruptive after frogging. Mealtime with an autistic person is never predictable or boring. There is also a story about how David redecorated his bedroom with his own excrement, but you'll just have to imagine it.

“Turbine” created my own dialogue about this issue. I’ve been talking to myself about it for two weeks and we both agree, Seedy is wonderful, the actors brilliant as an ensemble, but I don’t have any further insight into the wind turbine issue. I didn’t grow up in New Zealand, so what I have to say comes from a recent perspective as a new resident, but I do have the deepest respect for an ensemble willing to take a chance to present autism with dignity and truth.

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