Fold again [by Matt Baker]
There are certain recurring words associated with Jo Randerson’s writing: witty, refreshing, grotesque, absurd, surreal, irreverent; but it is only these last two I would attribute to her first play, Fold, which is currently playing in The Basement Studio. Its self-proclaimed “…mockery of pretension, self-obsession, and self-delusion…” is nothing more than that, a mockery, and while ridicule has its place in theatre as an arrow in the playwright’s quiver, it must be launched with precision to successfully hit its proposed target.
Comedy is the imitation of inferior people, but to rely on the audience to project any cynicism (as spurred on by the playwright’s polemic perspective of their purposely-penned one-dimensional characters) means the inferiority becomes misplaced. This misplacement in Fold results in writing with the sort of extremity you find in die-hard left/right-wing columnists whose fervour indicates psychological delusion. Randerson points the finger and openly mocks the one percent, but does so with little skill or class. There is no socio-political commentary in Fold, because theatre achieves this with the way in which it presents ideas, not simply by presenting them with the directness of German-language GPS navigation device.
There is lack of particular devices that leads me to not describe Randerson’s writing as absurdist, however, there are surrealist elements that are evident and have been attempted in this production. The problem, however, is that these attempts are not achieved. Director Jessica Jeffries has not pushed her cast to present anything other than the comfortableness of their characters, which oozes out through their lacklustre performances. There is at least a consistency with Emily Jackson and Ben Truman, but although the latter made something of, what was for me, the make or break moment as to whether I gave up on this show or not, the writing was not enough to keep me invested. When Cliff Robinson wasn’t dulling the audience with his uninspiring vocal range, he was checking them and his fellow cast – a common actor trait which seems to have passed by Jeffries in rehearsals. Niwa Whiteria’s vocal abilities are so poor his casting has to be a conscious choice – the point of which is as unclear as his singing, and although Carl Drake is the only actor who has something to play with, by the time he comes to it, it doesn’t matter.
I won’t say that I hated this production, because that response is only evoked when there has been no attempt to challenge (or even cater to) an audience, and I can’t say I hate this play, because that would insinuate there was content to which one could project one’s response. Instead, I’ll simply say that the cast and creative team failed to reach their goal, and Randerson has come a long way since 1997, and perhaps, as relevant as the material may be today, some things are better left in the past.
Fold plays at The Basement until April 4. For details see The Basement.