Meraki Arts Bar, the newly renovated three-story Oxford Street bar that houses a cabaret lounge and a small black box theatre, has just opened, and Corvus Arts Theatre’s Australian premiere of The Dazzle marks the first theatre production in the new venue. I eagerly accepted my invitation, intrigued to see the new space. I always want to support indie theatre—both as an artist and as a critic—and was excited by the possibility of a new, financially accessible indie performing arts venue.
Inspired by the real-life story of the New York City Collyer brothers who were infamous hoarders, The Dazzle is a story about loneliness, suffering, and the unconventional ways people cope with unhappiness. This three-hander is written by Richard Greenberg, directed by Jane Angharad, and co-produced by Alec Ebert and Emma Wright.
It’s early 20th century in New York City and two brothers—eccentric musical genius, Langley (Alec Ebert), and his long-suffering brother and carer, Homer (Steve Corner)—live together in their Harlem mansion. They are accompanied by mountains of ‘dazzling’ junk that Langley collects and refuses to throw away. Despite being an acclaimed concert pianist, Langley finds the outside world overwhelming and upsetting, and he wouldn’t leave at all if it wasn’t for his brother’s well-meaning but self-interested encouragement (the pair depend on Langley’s musical income to survive). Langley’s determination to be a recluse is disrupted by the arrival of wealthy, bright-eyed socialite Milly (Meg Hyeronimus) who is infatuated by Langley and refuses to be dissuaded by his unconventional manner.
The Dazzle initially presents itself as a play about Langley struggling to separate his artistic genius from his debilitating mental illness. However, as the play develops, Greenberg reveals himself to be more interested in exploring the psychology of Langley’s caregivers—Homer and Milly—individuals who willingly devote their own lives to taking care of Langley, when he can’t take care of himself. By granting the most depth and character development to the two carers who sustain Langley, Greenberg interestingly subverts the overtold tale of a tormented and lonely artistic genius.
It’s a talented trio, and I was impressed by Corner and Hyeronimus’s performances of Homer and Milly, which struck me as thoughtful, considered and, at times quite funny. I loved how initially these characters arrived on stage as caricatures—the ditsy, lustful socialite and the gruff brother—and then over the course of the 100-minute play, the writing and performances imbued them with unexpected depth and complexity.
The Meraki space is small, but director Jane Angharad and designer Aloma Barnes use it thoughtfully. I particularly enjoyed how you had to walk through the set to take your seats, which allowed the audience to fully appreciate Barnes’ attention to detail in portraying Langley’s hoarding.
Ultimately though, this play wasn’t for me, and I’ve been struggling for a few days to articulate exactly why. I think it largely comes down to personal taste, and a dislike of Greenberg’s dry, comic writing style. Marketing material compared the production to Waiting for Godot and Noel Coward, which explains my lukewarm reaction because I don’t particularly enjoy either of those references.
In addition to disliking Greenberg’s style, I struggled with the subject matter and the period setting— America in the early 1900s. The story didn’t feel particularly relevant or contemporary and I couldn’t work out why the play was chosen to be programmed in Sydney, today. I left the theatre unsure of what I was supposed to get out of The Dazzle.
Maybe this is a simple matter of personal taste, and maybe I’m just not amenable to Greenberg’s style (I’m not familiar with his other work), but this production didn’t click for me.
I struggle with writing reviews of plays I don’t like, especially when those plays are created by indie companies because I know how hard it is to be an indie artist, and I know how much love is poured into these productions. However, I can’t pretend to be objective as a reviewer, I can only interpret and critique art by drawing on my own experiences and tastes.
The Dazzle didn’t resonate with me, but maybe it will resonate with you.
The Dazzle runs until the 3rd of December at Meraki Arts Bar. Tickets can be purchased here.