Lana Schwartcz – Small Talk

By Noel Kelso Lana Schwarcz

The concept of the ‘Inner Child’ is one familiar to many from the pages of pop psychology and often we are encouraged to ‘get in touch’ and ‘release’ this modern-day pixie. But what if after one released one’s Inner Child one found that it could not be returned? This is the central premise of Lana Schwarcz’s show Small Talk at the Courthouse Theatre in Kew.

Schwarcz plays each of the four central characters and voices each of the inner children with expert skill, clearly delineating each character through vocal performance, changes in posture and subtle tics and quirks – such as the habit of one character to push their spectacles up their nose – making it apparent which is speaking despite there only being one person on stage.

Protagonist, Tilly, is new-age dabbler who has created a machine which will allow people to not only see their Inner Child, but to also release it to allow for better communication and understanding and possible resolution of any issues before returning them whence they came.

Her three clients – a redhead with emotional baggage; a divorcee manchild and a pregnant professional with no interest in children – come to her therapy centre to experience this new technology and get better acquainted with their Inner Child. Needless to say – not all goes to plan.

Somebody sabotages the machine and it becomes a race against time – and sanity – to return the Inner Children to their rightful places.
Along the way there are plenty of laughs and some beautifully rendered beats of emotion as each character explores what has become of the person they once were. Some are endearingly shy and some psychotically homicidal, and how the Adults deal with these now-released inner demons holds the attention of the audience and does not let go for the full hour.

Schwarcz is a puppeteer and stand-up comic by trade and she brings these skills to bear throughout this show. The realisation of the Inner Children through puppets – one of which is initially invisible – is nothing less than impressive with Schwarcz using every trick at her disposal to make each as much a living, breathing individual as each of the adults she portrays. Carefully constructed props and subtle use of lighting effects reinforce the reality of the world being portrayed on stage. Schwarcz’s craftsmanship is impressive and her ease of use of each of her props makes for a smooth performance experience.

Overall this is a delightfully quirky show with plenty of laughs and touching moments which will hopefully warrant a return run.

Small Talk by Lana Schwarcz is on at The Kew Courthouse theatre, Kew at 8:00pm until May 9th.

Loman Empire: The Sitcom – An unauthorised satire of Death of a Salesman

By Lisa Clark

Who can resist such a delicious idea of a comic sitcom version of the Great American Tragedy Death of a Salesman with such a fabulous cast? Danny McGinlay has done the inspired re-imagining of Arthur Miller’s play and manages to satirise the great American sitcom at the same time.

The audience is part of this production, playing the part of a live studio audience at the recording of a sitcom called The Loman Empire. The cast are being made up as the audience enters.  The warm-up guy (Lachlan Millsom) sets the mood well, introducing us to the stars of the show and prompting us throughout. An applause sign flashes as characters enter and at end of scenes and the tech guy at side of stage also helps remind us that we are in a studio. The pre-recored filmed segments work beautifully including cute cliched opening and closing credits and some very silly ads, most of which are hilarious. There was a great moment where the actors improvised around a prop that played up which made a very funny potential ‘blooper reel’ moment.

The performers are all brilliantly cast and throw themselves into their two-part roles which include the actors behind the scenes as well as the on camera characters. Russell Fletcher as the has been star and patriarch Willy Loman is amusingly overbearing and annoying (in both characters) with a catchphrase and a relationship with his downtrodden wife Linda, played with a twinkle by Lana Schwarcz, that is reminiscent of The Honeymooners. Off camera Lana’s obnoxious animal rights actress character create’s more drama and fireworks with him than on. Jimmy James Eaton is a surprise standout as favourite son Biff (and manages to squeeze in one of his trademark funny raps) and Danny McGinlay has fun playing his little brother Happy as well as the actor who, thanks to Danny’s previous festival show is a drunken Ukranian. We get to see Director Damian Callinan on stage playing the wacky neighbour Charley and Denis Manahan does a fabulous job playing various important characters. Other actors who pop in for short cameos are Lucy Horan, Katharine Burke and Chris Masters Mah. There are some rough edges in the timing of dialogue but these will be improved as the run progresses.

Like Willy Loman’s hazy memories there is a very vague sense of the period this is set in, which actually works well, it mostly feels like 1949, then a modern reference turns up or a modern product placement, like an anachronism you might notice in MASH or Happy Days, shows that seemed to gradually forget which period they were set in. There are many clever digs at sitcoms, their clichés and wacky situations that are part of giving the audience a sense of the history of this long running successful sitcom at the same time echoing Willy Loman being haunted by his past.

My only issue with the production (apart from the line ‘A man is not a piece of fruit’ being absent which is a bit like doing Hamlet without ‘To Be or Not To Be’) was that the backstage shenanigans, though fun, didn’t really affect the TV performance and lacked focus and the comedic tension that would have come out of a situation such as the cast finding out the show is axed or one of the cast is leaving or this being the final episode which would have reflected the sense of doom and hidden secrets exposed in the play.

Death of a Salesman is about dysfunctional families, false fronts and the rot at the core of The American Dream so it fits a sitcom scenario perfectly. You may not know the play but you will get a sense of it from the play’s dialogue and a lot of laughs that come from clever zingers, groaners and sending up sitcoms. The Loman Empire – The Sitcom – An unauthorised satire of Death of a Salesman (note this is a recent name change) is the sort of creative, intelligently put together performance that makes Melbourne Fringe so wonderful and will no doubt be one of the highlights of 2014.

Loman Empire: The Sitcom An unauthorised satire of Death of a Salesman is on at the Northcote Town Hall at 8:15pm until September 28.

Lana Schwarcz : Love Monster

By Colin Flaherty

Reading excerpts from her Big Book of Exes, Lana Schwarcz tells a number of disastrous stories from her love life. She is anxious about still being single at 40 and wonders what the main problem is. Could it be the Love Monster?

Each former lover was referred to by occupation only which gave anonymity and also provided fuel for some witty lines about why their relationship ended. Some non-starter beaus were covered in two extended tales; one about a Vietnamese trip, the other about signing up for a reality show. This allowed her to explore some amusing peripheral material that didn’t focus solely on her love life and give more variety to the script.

This was a very theatrical show – essentially a humorous monologue that stuck firmly to a script. Lighting fade outs to divide the “chapters” rounded the formal staging. She delivered her tales with a hint of nervous energy that fitted well with the theme of being a little needy for affection. The audience couldn’t help but warm to her, even after she gave us a sickeningly cutesy collective name.

It wasn’t just an hour of Lana bemoaning her lack of a partner, there was something special thrown into the mix. A renowned puppeteer, Schwarcz has created a stunning creature in the titular monster who made a number of appearances throughout. A physical manifestation of her relationship issues, the Monster distributes love blindly much to Lana’s annoyance. The scene with the monster using Lana’s phone and her woeful attempts at poetry were great fun to watch as she created anarchy. It was a wonderful respite from the theatrical stiffness with some audience interaction which was gentle but liable to intrude on your personal space.

With its poignant ending, Love Monster is a show that unabashedly tugs at your heartstrings. With such a warm and engaging performer it is certainly a fun way to wallow in loneliness.

Love Monster is on at the Imperial Hotel until April 19


By Lisa Clark

This was a children’s comedy festival show commissioned by The Arts Centre and they couldn’t have picked a better bunch of people to put this together. Conceived and Directed by Laura Milke Garner the radio play veteran (Whodunnit live Radio plays, 3RRR & much more) and written by Kate McClennan (who’s also in Standard Double) with her esteemed ability to create comedy characters. It is performed by three of the most expressive comedy character actors in Australia; Justin Kennedy, last seen in the gorgeous romantic comedy Donna & Damo (2010), Lana Schwarz (actress /puppeteer, co-creator of Puppet Slam) and Xavier Micheledis (who’s solo show at MICF this year is Good Morning! but was also invited to perform with Rich Fulcher in Tiny Acts of Rebellion).  All brimming with charisma and joy they play multiple roles and are supported by the hardest working sound tech at the Festival, Brett Maverix, making all the amazing sound effects in the story, because this show is done in the style of an old fashioned radio play. Brett and his props take up half the stage!

All the kids (and I) are given a paper bag and a rubber glove to add their own special effects when asked. These and other sounds contributed by the audience, such as buzzing bees and gasps and dinosaurs, were signaled by large cards with pictures on them. This is all practiced at the outset giving us a taste of what is to come and making you wonder how a dinosaur is going to fit into the story. The story itself was about a brother and sister, Sam (Xavier) and  Maddy (Lana), forgetting their Dad’s birthday and then deciding to do up his shed into a music studio (which they name The Super Speedy Sound Shed)  before he gets home from work. For this they need to go down to the futuristic shopping centre guarded by a store security dog/donkey named Connie.

Justin Kennedy and his adorably rubbery face plays the story’s Narrator and acts as a sort of adult authority to the children who often gleefully ignore his advice to their peril. Justin also plays many of the shop keepers they meet such as Mr Sprodly Sprocket the spring salesman, funk singing Dizzy the musical instrument salesman and Mike of Mike’s Mics. Xavier’s other characters include the kids’ Dad Cyril, the farting flying baboon mirror salesman and Connie the dog/donkey. Lana is absolutely perfect as Maddie and also plays the shopping center announcer and Shirley the train driver. Meanwhile the sound effects guy is running all over the place creating farts with with a tube trumpet, vomit with a fishtank and jelly lumps, and a sound system with a theremin, he also had lots of bells, whistles, shoes to stomp, chains to rattle and glasses to tinkle. Then of course the kids got to join in at regular intervals when the big cardboard signs were held up.

There were a couple of tiny glitches with the first performance of such a complex piece that will be ironed out by these performers quick smart, no doubt. It will also improve as the performers become more familiar with the rather word heavy script and perform to each other and the audience more.  The important thing about it is that the kids were for the most part transfixed, becoming completely involved with what was going on throughout and enjoying the participation when it happened. This is an ambitious kids show put on by a swag of talented people who know how to make sure the adults will get a big kick out of it at the same time.

Super Speedy Sound Shed is only on for 5 shows – at the The Famous Spiegeltent at Arts Centre until Sunday April 7