src="//" border="0" />


Monday, June 8, 2009

THOSE WHO want their theatre to puzzle and amuse, like a very witty brainteaser, will find plenty to admire in Barry McKinley’s Elysium Nevada.

The title is your first clue. A retirement resort tucked neatly into the edge of the Mojave Desert, it allows residents to enjoy the blazing sun while frittering away their final hours playing cards, comparing wheelchairs and bickering without interruption.

The resident most adept at these activities, played with a pleasantly chewed-up growl by Ian Blackmore, and identified eventually as Mike, is such a misanthropic cynic that he seems to burn up all life around him. Even a cactus wilts in his vicinity, looming at an absurdly tilted angle upon Kate Moylan’s aptly sparing and gently skewed set.

For quite a while the play offers a study in wizened, impotent rage, measured out in wicked oneliners. Having complained at length about the prurient obsessions of the young and their general decline in standards, Mike tells his interlocutor, Bob (Steve Curran): “The only way these little bastards will get manners is if it becomes a sexually transmitted disease.”

The play’s other mode is an equally sardonic gallows humour comedy. “That’s how the grim reaper operates,” Mike says of a recent departure, “hooded cloak, soft shoes and a baseball bat.” A little caustic badinage goes a long way and, while McKinley gives us a refreshingly unsentimental picture of the elderly, it is clearly a young man’s picture: affectionately irreverent, emotionally callow and just a bit too knowing.

As the jokes pile up, for instance, a warm Curran tries valiantly to be more than just a straight man or a cipher, but the script is against him. Director Terry Byrne recognises the play’s tragicomic tone and post-apocalyptic suggestions, to the extent that Ann Russell’s largely silent, sentinel Constance initially resembles a character from Endgame who has gone on holiday.

Indeed, it would be tempting to call the whole thing Beckett meets Shepard, were it not for the fact that Sam Shepard has been trying to make that precise rendezvous for years. However, every time you think you have the play pegged, McKinley switches his washing line.

In the space of one sandstorm, the play becomes something else entirely and instead of sunbaked sitcom we have an affecting, formally explosive riff on senile dementia. Then, the moment that idea becomes doddery, the play changes shape again.

Finally, when every clue has been slotted neatly into place, there is something both rewarding and anti-climactic about dissipating the cloud of ambiguity. This grimly funny play, it seems, really owes more to Mike’s vision of the grim reaper than it cares to admit, approaching us in such soft shoes before confirming its deadly twist with the smack of a baseball bat.

No more clues though. You should see it for yourself. Until June 27th