For anyone who has ever hosted a Party [by James Wenley]
It’s a fine art to hosting a great party. In Inviting Caroline we learn from twenty-something Scott all the traps for new players; when to confirm the date, the ratio of food eaten to food left on the floor, and the importance of screening your invite list.
It’s a bit like putting on a play: getting the space ready, hoping lots of people will come, and that they all have a good time (Party Reviewers – now there’s a good idea!).
Ben Van Lier as good sort Scott is our affable party and play host; an unreliable narrator who steps in and out of the action to recount the lead-up to his party gone wrong, with many a diversion (like the travesty of the ‘ish’ qualifier or an education on the 7 states of drunkenness). Inviting Caroline, written by Ross MacLeod, was first performed in Hamilton in 2002 and the style seems to match that era when Scrubs was in vogue. It’s Quirky with a capital Q. It’s good to see kiwi theatre returning, and the script for the Auckland production directed by Chris Tan has evidently been newly updated for the Facebook generation; a reminder of how fast our social lives have developed with technology that was not around when the play debuted a mere 10 years ago.
Scott is the sun in which a group of loosely connected friends revolve around. Fiona, Amelia Reynolds, is the most developed character study; a simmering and angry exterior hiding a lack of confidence and a feeling that the world is constantly forgetting her. Scott’s also friends with two best friend Geeks – Sebastian (Ben Legg), who considers himself a stud, and Chris (Junior Misimoa), who’s not the smartest cookie. Chris likes Hillary, the quintessential pretty girl played by a stunning Lisa Sorenson, who naturally doesn’t give him the time of day.
Then there’s Caroline (Kat Glass) who nobody likes, and Scott reluctantly invites to the party. As to why nobody likes her, our narrator Scott is as clueless as us. She’s described as having an ‘immorality of her own’, and sleeps around, but that’s the worst that can be said of her. The character is neither wholly an out and out mega-bitch, nor a misunderstood soul; she just seems like a mildly obnoxious irritant, and it’s to the play’s detriment that a more decisive choice is made one way or the other, especially when such a big deal is made over the ethics of inviting her.
The balance of the play is off. We spend a lot of time meeting the characters and discovering their backstories (scenes playing fast, lose, and funny), but the actual plot barely kicks in till later and the party climax disappoints. Crucially, the play is structured with the familiar device of opening at the end – a massive fight between all the people at the party, then Scott steps out to tell us how we led up to that moment. But the telling is not nearly as surprising as that opening image, the events leading up to the fight predictable. When we return to this point in the story, there’s no further escalation.
Inviting Caroline is like a party that starts off pumping and high-energy, but fizzles out before midnight (though hangover free, and not without its laughs).
Inviting Caroline is presented by Artiszen and Geurilla Monkey and plays at The Basement Studio until 28 July. More details see The Basement.