REVIEW: Tiny Deaths (Smoke Labour Productions & My Accomplice)

Amanda Tito in Tiny Deaths

Monologist Pleasures and Displeasures [by Matt Baker]

Amanda Tito in Tiny Deaths
Amanda Tito in Tiny Deaths

In its modern usage from the literal French translation, la petite mort, “the tiny death” articulates the transcendent moment during the loss or weakening of consciousness associated with an orgasm. It is a euphoric state; love and life reflected in a moment of fragility so near to our inevitable last. While not all of the eleven monologues that make up Wellingtonian theatre-maker Uther Dean’s scripts reach such a particular state in the theatrical sense, the variety offered in Tiny Deaths allows for a range of consideration on why, and sometimes what, we love.

Perched on Christine Urquhart’s elevated AstroTurf stage, ten performers surround the Basement studio audience. While some appear more conventionally clothed than others, all have an essence of absurdity hidden behind their black eyes. Lighting by Marshall Bull allows for both performers and audience to disappear into the privacy of the shadows as the focus draws towards each monologist, an atmosphere that is at once personal and collective. These design components provide enough unity to carry each monologue to the next, but it is up the performers to hold our interest.

Elizabeth McMenamin sets an immediate and distinct benchmark for the proceeding pieces. Her vocal work accentuates the light play-against to the dark humour, which allows for the shade in the text to reveal itself. Amanda Tito is entrancing as she dissects the intricacies of the nature of a parasitic relationship. With the subtlest of smiles and smallest glimmer in the eyes, Tito turns each word to flesh, breathing life into one of the more allegorically applicable pieces of the night.

Chelsea McEwan Millar tackles what is potentially the most socially relevant and also difficult piece of the evening. It’s a dramatic shift in tone and while McEwan Millar is a solid enough actress to prevent this from resulting in a disconnection from the audience, she stops short of the depth of which she is capable. Geordie Holibar and Phoebe Mason are both tasked with the dreaded “list” monologue, but while the former falters in his ability to avoid the typical rhythmic trappings, the latter excels in making each beat more important than the last. We want to hear each minute detail, right up until its unfortunately anti-climactic ending.

Katrina Wesseling has the least interesting story to tell, purely because the stakes are simply non-existent. Amelia Reynolds creates a strong juxtaposition to allow the emotionality of her piece to thrive, but a less obvious opening could have allowed this to have been even more poignant. Both Hannah Paterson and Willa Oliver pitch the comedy of their respective monologues very well, but a lack of specificity in certain areas prevents them from finding the full force of their performance.

The tone is changed with Maria Williams, but it is not well justified in her performance of a clichéd script. Bringing the evening to an end, Alex Ellis wafts in, and analogises on the art inside each of us. It’s a lyrically beautiful piece of writing, but Ellis’ performance is pitched literally from a different room, and doesn’t cohere with the performances as a whole.

Director Sam Brooks has served some of his cast well, mainly through casting, and while others are encumbered with more difficult scripts, none of the texts are so much so that they deserve the lack of necessary detail and specificity to take their piece from prose to performance. Regardless of any potential displeasure one might have during any particular point in this show, these many Tiny Deaths are worth seeing, because every day, in our own way, we each die a thousand tiny deaths. We love. We lose. We live on. What are eleven more?

Tiny Deaths is presented by Smoke Labour Productions & My Accomplice and plays at Basement Theatre until November 21. For details see Basement Theatre.

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