Entering the Reginald Theatre at the Seymour Centre, completely unaware of what Unfinished Works is, or what it is about, means a world of possibility and open mindedness from the audience for this new production by playwright Thomas De Angelis. But soon after the show starts, it’s tale about a contemporary artist in crisis and the internal struggle between integrity and money that faces these artists becomes clear, we understand where Unfinished Works gets its name from and is trying to achieve.
We are introduced to artist Frank Ralco (Lucy Goleby), a creatively limited artist who is close to being required to submit a new work to a museum. Her own friend, who has since become her agent, Jimmy (Kyle Kazmarzik) is anxiously pushing her towards selling another piece for a big paycheck. At the same time, student architecture Isabel (Contessa Treffone) is being pushed into a career, despite art being her only true passion. When Frank and Isabel meet, with the latter’s bewildered father Vince (Rhett Walton), the story begins, with Isabel helping Frank submit her work. But the play begs the question: how far is each individual willing to go to get where they want and what is the truly distinction between aptitude and artistic credibility?
Much of the difficulty with the play is how inauthentic the characters come across. Frank and Isabel feel like protagonists that lack the sensibilities and manner of professional artists, despite their potentially engaging characteristics. This blandness is further presented by the simplistic approach to set design and decoration, which is uninspired and subliminally reflects how boring these people are. This is in stark contrast to the strong themes and ideas that the show aims to explore and is not as well thought out as one would hope.
Lucy Goleby is in excellent form as Frank, with her emotional intensity not overdone, but authentic. We feel her complicated thought process and her insecurities in approaching her art. Goleby’s expression of vulnerability and force is astonishing and she is a highlight of the show. Isabel’s Contessa Treffone is anther solid performer, and more natural in her approach to the character – we feel she is not acting, but she is this character. Nevertheless, both women are strong and their chemistry is to be commended.
On the production side, director Clemence Williams starts off strong, with the initial attitudes towards art and commerce an interesting commentary in this modern play. William’s approach to the source material is honest and at times she gives the performers too much emotional passion to verge on subtlety. However, the second half loses impact and becomes a tiresome trudge to the end, with the impending climax missing the mark on the show. Much of this rest of De Angelis’ dialogue and plot structure, which certainly require more refinement and thought.
For much of the play, I couldn’t help but feel that there were missed interactions between the characters that could have been funnier and a more unusual view of the themes could have done the production better. Yet, I must admit that the work is simple but thoughtful and exciting. The work is self-aware and tightly constructed. The references to its location, inner west Marrickville in Sydney, make it appealing to members of the city audience and Sydney siders.
Ultimately the ending falls short as it becomes too focused on the commentary and closing of the storylines. That’s not to say that the play’s ending is not strong – it’s rewarding and fulfilling. But what makes the play soar is Williams’ direction of her actors and actresses, the main reason to come out and see this solid work.
Unfinished Works played at The Seymour Centre in Sydney from 23rd March – 2nd April 2016.
Originally published in Aphra Magazine, April 7, 2016.