Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 11. 22 July 1970
Drama Review — Precious Moments
That so many talents should be spent on Naftali Yavin's Precious Moments from the Family Album to Provide You with Comfort in the Long Years to Come as a shame. The play a not worth the really good production is received. It is in four episodes, each a fantastic treatment of a recognisable family situation. In the first, it's Mother's Day, and the husband, two children and grandmother join in expressing their love, hostility and dependence on the Mother. The second shows the daughter growing up and (you'd never guess) her inability to communicate with her parents. This was less light-hearted, and the third not light-hearted at all. The son has discovered a huge mysterious egg. His parents drop off and eventually he dies, never having solved the riddle. The end of the scene, with his dead body lying on the stage and the weather-balloon egg slowly deflating in the cornet was the sign for murmurings From all over the audience of "Oh, how ironic!" The Fourth scene had lots of interesting action. Father and Mother exchanged sex, brother and sister make love (after father has died in childbirth), sister becomes pregnant, gives birth to grandmother. This was all rather funny of course, but the laughs were a lot fewer by now. The first scene was spritely and we laughed, waiting to see what it meant. I think most of us lost patience somewhere in the third scence and were vexed that nothing in the final scene gave us the explanation we had been desperately hoping for.
George Webby's cast works together at a high, even standard. Their smooth concerted work in the fisrt scene was admirable. Mostly, however, one didn't notice the acting at all, which is as it should be. I last saw fergus Dick in Two Gentlemen of Verona playing coarsely for easy laughs. Here he gave a good, intelligent performance, as the father. His final appearances, as a woman, were very funny without Falling into travesty. He was restrained, almost sincere. Maybe by now this is no longer true. I imagine it would be hard to sustain such a delicate performance. When I saw Bryan Aitken in Misalliance I thought he acted self-indulgently and very badly (admittedly in a difficult part). I'm worried that I may received his performance in this play too coolly, in mind of that one. Still, there's no denying the long monologue that is part three simply requires greater skills than his. His delivey is manneristic and his recurrent slides into falsetto unpleasant. Adequate enough when playing with others, he lacked the weight or skill to carry that long scene. Pamela Hewes, the grandmother, was popular with most of the audience, but didn't appeal to me. Perhaps this is my idiosyncratic dislike of that which calls itself "whimsy" (e.g. most of A.A. Milne). It's hard to say anything about Dorothy Smith as the mother. She was good all the time, and it's hard to notice anything but the mistakes. She carried the first scene very well, and one hopes to see her again in a more testing role.
Ginette MacDonald is something special. Her soliloquy was handled very well and was really moving. She looked as if she had been crying. She was also (elsewhere) funny. If one were going to tell her where she makes mistakes, one would mention that she pulls faces, that her movement lacks precision, it sudden, even sloppy, that she shouldn't fight against her text or her fellow actors, and that she should discipline herself like a nun. But it seems churlish to try to change what is so delightful. Ginette is unpredictable, insanely honeyed or casually truculent. She reminds one of a rather baffling child who you cannot safely categorise as fey or clumsy or earnest. She is almost beautiful and very funny. I would pay to hear her give readings from the Cambridge log tables.
Downstage's efficient stage management and lighting now seems quite able to be taken for granted. The set is very cunning, revolving to give infinite variety of background. The sets and costumes are done in the trendy purples, yellows, blues, reds; terribly attractive and, I suppose, appropriate to the play. The music is awful, too much and too loud, quite at odds with the visual design.
What is the matter with Yavin's play? Well, it's boring, trivial and been done before. I was puzzling about structure, wondering if I'd missed something, until I learned that we'd seen four of six scenes, that the author says may be presented any number in any order. To approach the whole structurally is pointless. Each scene should stand on its own; none does. Yavin tries to have it both ways when he writes open, boring didacticism, and then says "of course it doesn't really matter much anyway." Perhaps the reason he does not develop the ideas he's thrown up is that he cannot. The philosophy is trivial, the humour is scarcely gratifying. The first scene is successfully funny, apart from the Earth Mother business. After that it becomes very grim. The Tom Stoppard plays (The Real Inspector Hound, Rosencrants and Guildenstern) although also striving to seem deeper than they were, were at least funny all the way through. And the more one thinks about it, the more one feels Yavin cribbed it all from lonesco, even the clumsy bits.
In one part someone actually quotes Chekhov. The line, "Men and lions, eagles and partridges, geese . . . spiders" is from The Seagull and is spoken in the play in the first act. Treplev has written a rather bad experimental play, groping For a new art form, in reaction to the true, artificial stage of the time. Now Chekhov himself was rebelling against the same sterile theatre, but in a more mature way. His plays are about particular people, who have their own names and their own homes. No one is called "The Daughter" and the play is never set "in your house". Yavin's play is written in rebellion ("why should we perform ail the scenes in a play? Why should it make sense?") and is as naive as Treplev's, really.
In the course of the rest of The Seagull we see a little of a mother-son relationship that is hostile, vet dependent, of two artists who have to face their own failure, of people who love but are not loved, of parents and children who cannot understand each other. Chekhov, that is to say, has the same sort of subjects, but talks of them tentatively, respecting his characters and their feelings, Chekhov refuses to "squeeze a moral out of the tritest words and emptiest scenes—some petty little moral that's easy to understand and suitable for use in the home." Chekhov absorbs Yavin, with his good intentions, his generalisations and confusion, he absorbs him, and goes far beyond him.
I think George Webby has, of anyone in Wellington, the skill, training, sensitivity and heart to produce Chekhov. Perhaps "need" goes in there somewhere too.