The last time I saw actors from the Australian Theatre Company, performing in Sydney, they presented a lively, absorbing version of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” starring Australian-born Cate Blanchett.
This time the Los Angeles chapter of this company is presenting the world premiere of “Grey Nomad,” written by Australian playwright Dan Lee, who, unfortunately, Is no Anton Chekhov. Lee’s play is predictable, boring, and nearly unfathomable due to the garbled accents, quirky vernacular, and fast-paced delivery of the players.
The title of the play refers to a post-retirement lifestyle which has lately become popular in Australia. It is the practice of retirees to seek later-life adventures by traveling around their continent endlessly in vans, trailers, campers, RVs and other movable living quarters.
The “grey nomads” in this case are Helen (Ros Gentle) and her crotchety husband Jim (David Ross Paterson) who are following Jim’s itinerary, with frequent counter-suggestions from Helen, who would much rather have continued living at home.
Jim, who acknowledges that he “can’t make small talk,” is rigidly avoiding other nomads, who tend to bore him and make him testier than usual. Helen, on the other hand, is lonely for company and continually makes friends with nomads that they meet along the way.
One of the couples that Helen makes friends with, much to Jim’s annoyance, are Val (Wendy Hammers) and Tim (Paul Tassone), who introduce themselves after emerging from the ocean “starkers” (stark naked).
Val is a perpetual wriggler and flirt, while Tim follows the mellow ways of a guru and practices yoga on the beach. Both have an enormous influence on the priggish Helen and her irascible husband.
Because the play apparently contains many Australian idioms (which you can neither decipher nor understand because of the tortured speech patterns of the players), there is a glossary included in the playbill. For example, “a headless chook” is someone who is not thinking clearly; if someone takes off without warning, he has “dunna runna” (done a runner); and if you say someone is “a bit ‘how’s your father’” you are indicating that the person is odd, “not quite right.”
Costume designer Kate Bergh has done a fine job of defining the characters by the clothes they wear — especially the flashy, colorful outfits worn by Val. The scenic designer, Se Oh, however, has done a less interesting job with an empty set that consists of folding chairs that the actors carry out and then immediately carry back onstage to indicate that there has been a time change. There is also an oversized cooler filled with ice that Jim continually wheels on and off. And a background screen of solid turquoise that remains unrelentingly static throughout the play. “Grey Nomad” is directed by Iain Sinclair.
The most unnerving feature of the evening, however, was the opening night audience, which must have been composed of friends and family of the actors or else members of a church where the congregation is encouraged to call out responses to the preacher’s sermon. Because that’s what many in the audience did: screaming with laughter, interrupting the actors’ dialogue with inappropriate clapping, and calling out reactions or directions in the middle of a scene.
If you get the idea that I wasn’t enthralled by this production, you’re absolutely right!
“Grey Nomad” is a visiting production at the Skylight Theatre, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., in Los Angeles. It plays Monday-Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 and 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m. through October 8. Call 866-811-4111 for tickets.