Intense drama is worth another visit

Kingdom of Earth
Director: Fred Abrahamse
Cast: Anthea Thompson, Marcel Meyer, Nicholas Dallas
Venue: Flipside at the Baxter Theatre Centre
Until February 22
RATING: ****

THREESOME: Nicholas Dallas as Lot, Marcel Meyer as Chicken and Anthea Thompson as Myrtle in Tennessee Williams' Kingdom of Earth. Credit: Pat Bromilow Downing

SINCE IT was staged at Artscape Arena just more than a year ago, Fred Abrahamse’s production of Tennessee Williams’ under-rated masterpiece Kingdom of Earth has matured like a choice vintage to maximise the work’s philosophical, psychological and socio-political complexities – not to mention its dramatic impact.

It is the latter which makes this taut, darkly shaded three-hander such riveting theatre.

Tension builds as Myrtle, a woman of ambiguous virtue, gravitates between her new husband and his brother, males who respectively symbolise effete refinement and raw sexuality.

This volatile scenario plays itself out in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a house threatened by impending floodwaters, an ancient metaphor for destruction and regenerative cleansing…

The Baxter’s Flipside, a stage more spacious than that of Artscape’s Arena, is better suited to the multi-layered set necessary for Myrtle’s seven symbolic descents from the upstairs bedroom (the world of her effeminate, mother-fixated husband Lot) to the earthier domain of the kitchen, pervaded by the dangerous presence of Chicken, her brother-in-law.

The antebellum mansion Lot has inherited should convey a sense of space, and this comes across in the latest production.

A common denominator in the cast of three is the degree to which their roles have been assimilated: several months ago, the archetypal quality of parts like Myrtle’s (virgin/whore/ maternal figure) or Lot’s (invalid/impotent husband/child) negatively affected their characterisation.

Although strong, it fell short of achieving the verisimilitude of fully rounded personae, while now, each of the protagonists is entirely convincing; it is not so much a matter of portraying a character as of becoming that character.

At times the Southern accents are too pronounced for clarity of diction, especially at the beginning of the play, but this does not compromise the intensity of the drama.

When all is said and done, this is splendid theatre deserving of a second visit.