Siblings in Rehearsal

The Eisteddfod accomplishes a rare feat: it leaves the audience with something to talk about long after they have left the theater. A tightly directed, two-person character study, the play combines psychological drama with dark humor, and in the process it serves up a fascinating, hourlong head trip where everything is as it seems, yet nothing is as it appears. Set within a suffocating room somewhere in Australia, The Eisteddfod tells the story of two emotionally splintered siblings, Abalone and Gerture, as they prepare to compete in the local eisteddfod (a Welsh word, which somehow found its way into the Australian lexicon, meaning "talent show"). Rehearsing scenes from Macbeth, they create and recreate scenes from their own lives. As the eisteddfod draws nearer, Abalone and Gerture confront their murky past, narrow present, and inescapable future, ever mindful of their absent parents and former lovers.

Playwright Lally Katz has created a hall of mirrors: her characters and their story reflect on themselves, distorting both reality and imagination. She also has devised an intriguing puzzle. Her play juxtaposes scenes of infectious comedy with those of disturbing depravity, then blurs the line between reality and fantasy. She makes Abalone and Gerture's rendering of Macbeth a truly awful spectacle, complete with bad Scottish accents. Yet within these very funny scenes Katz injects moments of dark reality as Gerture's insecurities manifest themselves in a past relationship with a sadistic beau, played by her brother.

Luke Mullins and Jessamy Dyer, who have been with this project since its inception in Australia, create finely detailed portraits as they bring Abalone and Gerture to vivid life. Mullins gives a measured and controlled performance as the manipulative Abalone. The more desperate he becomes for his sister's attentions, the more compelling Mullins becomes in his choices. He inhabits his character with a beguiling charm that is eccentric and, within the confines of the story, disturbing.

Jessamy Dyer gives a raw performance of overwhelming spontaneity as Gerture. She imbues her character with a haunting fragility that evokes empathy but never pity. Desperate for love, Gerture clings to scraps of it like a drowning woman caught in a whirlpool.

Director Chris Kohn confines the action to an 8-by-10-foot platform, forcing both characters to remain trapped physically, much the same way they are emotionally. It's a bold choice, one that keeps the action focused while creating an atmosphere of almost unbearable tension. Richard Varbe's claustrophobic light design produces an unsettling atmosphere of anxiety and dread, helping Kohn and Katz to realize their vision.

The Eisteddfod triumphs in its own ambiguity. As reality and fantasy converge, Abalone and Gerture are left to navigate the inevitable uncertainty of their future, while the audience must piece together the clues they have left behind.

Click for print friendly PDF version of this blog post