Ev­ery woman knows a Har­vey We­in­stein

Dean alights on heavy sub­ject mat­ter softly whether in­ten­tion­ally or not

The New Zealand Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

The black dog T-shirt worn by Welling­ton theatre-maker Uther Dean for these solo sto­ry­telling shows silently re­veals his ap­proach: the black dog is Win­ston Churchill’s sym­bol of de­pres­sion — and also a cute scrawl.

Dean alights on heavy sub­ject mat­ter softly, play­ing lines like “my self-ha­tred is the only one who seems to care about me” for gen­tle laughs. Whether this method comes across as de­lib­er­ately dis­con­cert­ing, as fear­ful avoid­ance of in­ten­sity or as a use­ful dis­cus­sion starter may de­pend on whether au­di­ences share on­stage-Uther’s anx­i­eties about co­he­sive self-iden­tity (Ev­ery­thing is

Sur­rounded by Wa­ter) or heart­break and self-ha­tred (A Pub­lic Air­ing of Grievances). Both shows of­fer great one-lin­ers. Wa­ter (writ­ten with di­rec­tor Han­nah Banks) is de­liv­ered with pol­ished “spo­ken word” in­to­na­tion; Grievances has a few more jokes and a bit of stand-up com­edy messi­ness about it — tak­ing in yo­ghurt, Ja­panese re­al­ity tele­vi­sion and a su­per­hero “Adult Man” whose su­per­pow­ers don’t in­clude ve­hi­cle knowl­edge but “call­ing the AA”.

Uther-the-char­ac­ter has all the self­con­scious self-ob­ses­sion of some­one with a quar­ter-life cri­sis (“a 25th birth­day is like a 21st, ex­cept ev­ery­one is much sad­der” he says in Wa­ter). He of­fers pseudo-pro­fun­di­ties (are we good peo­ple who do bad things, or vice versa?) but also some more in­ter­est­ing ob­ser­va­tions which could be de­vel­oped fur­ther (things don’t need to be real to hurt you).

Al­though, dis­ap­point­ingly, a key sub-plot of award-win­ning Wa­ter closely echoes US play­wright Neil La Bute’s The Shape of Things with­out ac­knowl­edge­ment, Dean’s writ­ing is as­sured. Nar­ra­tive struc­ture is his play­thing, as he re­ar­ranges scenes as eas­ily as squares in a slider puz­zle.

He is an amus­ing, un­re­li­able nar­ra­tor to his own work, point­ing to theatre’s ar­ti­fice: in Wa­ter, he tells us that his early jokes are im­por­tant, be­cause things will get heavy later on. But they don’t; in­stead, the story takes a sur­real, hal­lu­ci­na­tory turn, and chameleon cut­tle­fish be­come the show’s best metaphor, sug­gest­ing hu­man iden­tity is sim­ple mimicry.

A great com­pan­ion for the young and wor­ried, for an even­ing.

Welling­ton theatre-maker Uther Dean of­fers great one-lin­ers.

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