Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rough Magic, 'How To Keep An Alien': A Glance Across a Ballroom.

The intelligently wry Sonya Kelly plays a blinder in this memoir about love and separation. Photo: Anthony Woods. 

Project Arts Centre, Dublin Fringe Festival
Sept 6-13

My review of How To Keep An Alien by Sonya Kelly coming up just as soon as a moist pearl of midlife crisis drips down my forehead ...

Sonya Kelly is connecting the dots. "Irish people are exotic ..." she advances slowly, "... to people who are not from Ireland". Obvious but sometimes we don't see what is right in front of us. It takes the Australian (or "Austr-alien") stage-manager throwing flirts from the other side of an austere rehearsal room for Kelly to realise that once you see something truthfully, you might need to hold onto it. For coolheaded Kate, "Irish people are beautiful".

In this memoir by the performer, a fling becomes something more. An expired visa and an unproved Irish ancestry means that Kate has to return to Queensland. Melancholic from the separation, the two decide to reunite and appeal to the Irish immigration bureau. Unfortunately, proving your love requires a lot of paperwork.

Thankfully Justin Murphy is at hand to help coordinate - outdoing himself as a stage-manager whose contribution involves more than calling the show. Director Gina Moxley packs the staging with transitions and surroundings that instil laughter. A hellish waiting room in the immigration office becomes pale and clinical under Sarah Jane Shiels' lighting, as Carl Kennedy's sound design drones out a list of names. An abrupt wash of intense orange light signals a landing in Australia, overwhelming in more ways than one ("A midday wind grazes my face like a blowtorch").

Not that Moxley measures the play only for its comic affect. During an amusing chain of correspondences between the performer and a hearty employee of the General Post Office, the sound of tapping directs us somewhere else - the sight of the returned Kate outside her window. Kelly, still and speechless in a pale light, is indelibly grateful.

What is most affecting is its kindness, extending from Murphy's trustful stage-hand to an inundation of support from family and friends. The intelligently wry Kelly bowls us over with witty lines but they ultimately connect to form a tribute, one that encompasses more than simply her and her alien.

What did everybody else think?

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