Shallow Beauty [by James Wenley]
The Basement Studio feels roomier than normal; with seating pushed into the corner, we gaze out on a backyard bordered with rows of white sheets on a washing line, images of flowers delicately projected over them. There are more flowers of various hues in buckets on the Astroturf lawn that completely envelops the ground. Lying here is a woman – Ella (Catherine Croft) – who lounges in a makeshift sari made out of more white sheets. Garden of Eden meets a modern Garden of Auckland; Ella plays on her friend’s smartphone, selecting different music as the day rolls by. With the title referencing Kalopsia – the delusional veneer of beauty – just what lurks behind the floral allure?
It’s a picturesque setting created by visual artist Rebecca Phillips for a play were nothing much overtly happens: taking place in real time, we observe the conversation and dynamic between Ella, and her host Sarah Claire (Hayley Brown). In this Eden, who is the temptress? They’ve been friends since childhood, the type of best-friends who have their own elaborate personal greeting hand-shake/chant/dance, and a relationship forged with a make-the-world-a-better-place young idealism. After an accident with a 4WD, Ella has come to stay (or rather leech) off her friend. It’s clear that they have long grown beyond each other – Ella working for a “clean” coal company has compromised her ideals in the eye of her friend, and Ella’s intellectualism also becomes a point of tension.
Kalopsia Sky is the debut work of Frank Creation Theatre, a promising-sounding collaboration between Phillips and Croft to create “art-full” theatre. Croft’s script shows a concern with the personal – loss and ageing – and the global – of carbon footprints and climate change, protecting the environment, and the issues at the heart of the Generation Zero movement, for which she is a volunteer.
Its worthy material, but the dialectical arguments (Ella and Sarah Claire’s view sitting on either spectrum) erupt conspicuously rather than organically from the text, and much of it is saved for an obvious debate at the climax. Moral ambiguities are barely explored, and both characters retain the same viewpoint as they started the play with. It’s an argument that may play very well to the converted, but offers little insight for wider contemplation.
Part of the issue is characterisation – Croft’s Ella is a self-centred, obnoxious, and off-putting, clearly taking her friend for a ride. Croft casts repeated sly looks, goading and gaming for a reaction, and delighted when she gets it. Brown is more tightly wound, saintly for persevering with her friend, but it means we are barely given access to the character till the end. As such, I don’t particularly care for either of them, or what they might have to say.
I remain intrigued by the potential of the collaboration of art and theatre for Frank Creation; in Kalopsia Sky it has produced a very good set, but that is not unexpected in the theatre. I wonder how this relationship can be pushed further into the abstract; the flower projections transforming into kaleidoscope patterns at the end of the play is a small step in this direction.
Kalopsia Sky is presented by Frank Creation Theatre and plays at The Basement Studio until 26 October. Details see The Basement.
Charity Night (Thurs 24th) – $10 from every ticket will be donated to Generation Zero, a charity of young New Zealanders working together to secure a thriving zero carbon Aotearoa. Each charity ticket includes a glass of Yealands Sparkling Wine. (Concessions not available on this night)