REVIEW: 45 Cents an Hour (Basement Theatre)

Review by Lachlan Forlong

[A Portrait of a New Zealand Artist as a Middle-Aged Man]

How does it feel to be a struggling artist? What is the line between artistic integrity and corporate success? How do we know when it’s time to give up pursuing our passion? Dominic Hoey, in his new show 45 Cents an Hour at the Basement Theatre, explores his own life as an artist in New Zealand with wit, poetry, and important life lessons from his adorable dog.

The piece takes the form of an informal monologue as Hoey walks us through the ups and downs of his life as an artist, with the help of Rose Northey in the multifaceted role of stagehand/mime/various characters/usher. We hear where Hoey grew up, how he started rapping, how he wrote a book, and how he finally started writing and performing theatre. It’s a conversational tone; informal and relaxed but propelled by the narrative of Hoey’s life. While one minute he is recounting stories from high school, the next is an imagery laden poem on feeling like a failure. It keeps the audience on their toes by gently blending a narrative structure with interesting performative techniques.

There’s some insightful commentary on the status of an artist in New Zealand – on the difficulty of securing funding, of the classist social stigma that a poor artist just isn’t working hard enough, of how it feels to be an artist without a university degree to prove it. Hoey leans into these contentious topics and destigmatizes them. The wealthy elite’s snobbery is satirized to great comedic effect. He asks what a dystopian, Orwellian world we would live in without the creativity of an artist. We are never battered over the head by this though. Hoey’s frank and genuine storytelling does well to portray his underlying sardonicism without falling into pessimism. 

Artistic income is a strange topic, and it’s broached blatantly in this performance. It’s a type of social taboo to speak of one’s own financial standing for fear of sounding arrogant, for being misinterpreted as egotistical, for trying to prove how much more valuable you are to society than anyone earning less than you. Or perhaps you see nothing wrong with talking about it and you are blissfully unaware of the judgements unleashed behind your back. Hoey certainly doesn’t shy away from this and regales the audience with how in one year alone he made $22,000 as an artist. He mocks the taboo. It’s almost impossible not to be ecstatic with him as he fills us with the jubilation of finally getting payment for art. What $22,000 in one year means to him at this point in his life is infectious, and the audience is jubilant with him – until he brings the harsh reality of life crashing back with the realization that this is the equivalent of working for 45c an hour. 

In an autobiographical one-man-show there is the very real danger of becoming self-gratifying. 45 Cents an Hour deftly handles this. While Hoey accounts for the highs and lows in his life as an artist, the audience never feels like he is painting himself as some misunderstood genius. There is a brutal honesty to this piece; an unapologetic description of what Hoey has experienced while pursuing an artistic career. This delivery makes it relatable. We might have felt like Dominic failing class in high school, or when people asked what he was going to do if following his passion didn’t work out. We’ve been bad with money. We’ve made impulsive decisions. We have all felt like Dominic at some point in our lives.

The stage is rather nondescript with some scattered cotton clouds, a paper moon, and a worn armchair. The lighting is simple. But the script is brilliant. The dichotomy of such an unassuming stage with an illustrious dialogue speaks to an artist’s ability to create something with nothing. The metaphors, the on-stage creativity of writing the performance with the audience, the poetry, the symbolism; none of these things are dependent on a massive budget, on an orchestra playing in the pit, on detailed sets and beautiful costumes. Hoey wears jeans and a plain white t-shirt. He’s performing in a black-box theatre. And yet 45 Cents an Hour brilliantly demonstrates creative simplicity. 

The piece is interwoven with poetry, audience interaction, jokes, skits, phone calls and philosophical interjections by the abrasive and foul-mouthed dog, Prince Chilli. There’s even a reference to a Theatre Scenes review about a previous show that Hoey wrote and performed in. While this review didn’t specifically say, as it’s quoted, that his “acting was shit”, some refinement of his craft is certainly evident in this new piece. Hoey is comfortable on the stage and easily banters back and forth with the audience. The comedic timing of his performance is a sure sign of acting talent (but he could still look at the audience every once in a while).

45 Cents an Hour is an engaging, contemporary, and funny piece of theatre. The show manages to weave many different techniques into a coherent and cohesive performance. It makes you think, laugh, and ready to head to the bar for a beer with Dominic afterwards. He’s sure got some stories to tell.

45 Cents an Hour plays Basement Theatre 1-12 June, 2021. 

Director: Jo Randerson
Producer: H-J Kelly
Production Designer: Sylvie McCreanor
Production Manager/Operator: Marshall Rankin

Production Assistance: Lucie Everett-Brown

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