Theatre Review: According to Otto

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World premiere of new Australian play – According to Otto
It’s Otto Brooks’ 16th birthday and he’s about to reveal his big secret to his family – he’s gay! 
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Otto has the usual family – parents who love and embarrass him, a Uni student sister, a loving Nana who’s disabled and loves to blurt out hilarious pop culture statements, and a best friend, Max, who he’s secretly in love with. Plus there’s a school bully out to get him, Otto has a lot to go through before he’s out and truly happy. Hence, “time to delve into the world according to Otto!” 
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This play is directed by Wayne Tunks and is well cast, particularly the lead role, Otto, played by Jasper Musgrave. Musgrave gives a strong, truthful performance as sixteen year old Otto coming out. He is supported by a wonderful ensemble cast. Tunks plays his father who is very caring and understanding towards him coming out and gives a powerful performance particularly in the scene when he’s confronting the principal.
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Another favourite scene of mine is where Otto’s mother is at work with a gay colleague, Simon who’s very camp, played by Andrew Wang. Together they have hilarious conversations about life and his cat. I love the staging and choreography of this play as it’s often stylised to give emphasis to the dialogue. Also diversity plays an important role in the storyline, which is a positive, as this reflects our modern society as it stands today.
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According to Otto is playing at Depot Theatre, 142 Addison Rd, Marrickville.
14th – 24th February 2018.
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Wayne Tunks is one the leading lights in the independent theatre world. His plays have been performed worldwide. His most popular plays include, “The Subtle Art of Flirting, The Bridesmaid Must Die, We’ll Always Have Wagga, The Girlie Show, Fag Boy & the Married Guy, Silvertop Ash, Everything I Know I Learnt From Madonna and this year’s hit plays, Bitch and Diva Wars. Wayne is a former storyliner on TV’s Neighbours, and in 2018 releases his web series, After Nightfall.
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Running time: 105 minutes including interval
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Producer: Wayne Tunks
Director: Wayne Tunks
Assistant Director: Daniel Pollock
Lighting Designer: Louise Mason
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Cast: Felicity Burke, Alice Furze, Cooper Mortlock, Jacinta Moses, Jasper Musgrave, Tasha O’Brien, Brendan Paul, Wayne Tunks and Andrew Wang
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Remembering actor John Mahoney

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When I heard that actor John Mahoney died last week, it felt like a relative had passed away in the family. Mahoney’s warmth and endearing presence on the hit TV show, Frasier, had touched and moved me in the late nineties. I felt a part of me had died when I heard this news. He played Frasier’s father, Martin (Marty) Crane, a retired cop whose character was honest, a down to earth family man, with a big heart and a wonderful captivating laugh.

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Along with Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce, who played his sons, Mahoney had driven the Emmy-laden sitcom to its position as one of the highest-rated shows on television at the end of its fifth season. He was remembered alongside Eddie, his beloved dog, who used to constantly stare at Frasier.

My favourite Marty Crane episodes included the one where Frasier tried to replace his old, duct taped chair with a new one and Marty gave a heart felt speech stating that his old chair meant the world to him because of the memories it brought to him of his late wife and when Frasier was born. Another favourite episode was when he mimicked Daphne whining, as she desperately wanted to change her hair style like Princess Di but didn’t. And finally an earlier episode when he had just dyed his hair to look younger for a date and the hair dye was dripping at the back and had left marks on the head rest of a chair and he didn’t want to move because he didn’t want his date to discover he had dyed his hair.

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INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT JOHN MAHONEY 

What I didn’t know about Mahoney was that he had a daily mantra. This was revealed in an interview with Francis Guinan, when he talked about his play Rembrandt (in Chicago Tonight). Every day he used to say, “Dear God let me treat everybody, including myself. with love, respect and dignity.” He has said that he wasn’t a religious person but a spiritual one and believed in being “kind and nice as you can be.” It was important for him to be liked, because then he knew that he was fulfilling his mantra.

In the mid 1980’s he suffered from colon cancer (and later lung and throat cancer) and wasn’t able to have sex following a colostomy, so he didn’t want to be involved with anyone because he didn’t want to be a burden, so he chose to be single for the rest of his life. (What a kind, selfless man he was.)

And for the past 20 years, Mahoney spent Christmas at the home of Chicago theatre producers Jane and Bernie Sahlins: “It’s Christmas dinner for Jews and atheists and other alienated people,” says Patinkin, who also attended. “We drink, we sing Christmas carols, we put on silly hats, and we have a really nice time.”

 

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ABOUT JOHN MAHONEY 

John Mahoney was born Charles John Mahoney in Bispham, Blackpool, England (June 20, 1940 – February 4, 2018). He moved to the U.S. in 1959 when his sister Vera agreed to sponsor him and he studied at Quincy University, Illinois. He taught English at Western Illinois University and then served as an editor for a medical journal. Mahoney wasn’t satisfied with his career and so it wasn’t until he was 37 that he started acting. He took acting classes at St. Nicholas Theatre, which inspired him to resign from his day job and pursue acting full-time. It was after a stage production in Chicago in 1977,  when John Malkovich encouraged him to join Steppenwolf Theatre. Mahoney won the Clarence Derwent Award as Most Promising Male Newcomer, then later Broadway‘s Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance in John Guare‘s The House of Blue Leaves. His first major film role was in the 1987 for Barry Levinson film Tin Men. He went on to have roles in films in the 1980s and 1990s, including Moonstruck, Eight Men Out, Say Anything…, In the Line of Fire, Reality Bites, and The American President appeared in two Coen brothers films, Barton Fink and The Hudsucker Proxy. He then appeared on Cheers (in a guest role) from which Frasier was a spin off series. Here he made a huge impression on the producers and Kelsey Grammer and was then asked to play Martin Crane on Frasier from 1993 to 2004.

MEMORABLE MAHONEY QUOTES

“I don’t want to be someone people feel they have to take care of and look after and entertain and make sure I’m happy. I can’t stand the thought of that.”

When he was asked about settling down with someone, he said that time has passed. “I just don’t have time for it, to tell you the truth,” Mahoney said. “And I’m of an age now where I think that, closing in on 60, I’m resigned to the fact that a good book and a CD and a glass of Jameson’s is probably going to be my companionship for the rest of my life.”

“The theatre is my brothers, my sisters, my father, my mother, my wife,” Mahoney has said. “It is everything to me.”

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THANK YOU JOHN MAHONEY for the laughs and for the inspiration. You’ll be greatly missed. I’ve learnt a lot from you and may your legacy live on.

 

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WHAT I’VE LEARNT FROM JOHN MAHONEY

It doesn’t matter if you’re 20, 30, or 40, finding the value of being curious about everything you don’t know and following a passion or a hobby (as long as it gives you joy) and taking calculated risks in your life can pay off. As long as you’re happy and true to yourself and show respect to others – that’s the answer to good mental health and longevity.

Also self check – keep a healthy ego by respecting other people and yourself and don’t sweat over the small things in life because life’s too short. We’re all equal after all and part of the human race.

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Photos courtesy of NBC, Frasier, Kelsey Grammer, Michael Brosilow / Steppenwolf Theatre), Dailyovation, Brandon Ramos & Jamie Divecchio Ramsay.

 

 

Film Review – I, Tonya

 

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I, Tonya is based on the true story of controversial 1990’s figure skater Tonya Harding played by Margot Robbie. This is a dark comedy with lots of mature content as Harding was seriously abused by both her mother, LaVona (Allison Janney) and boyfriend/husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). There are some heavy, dramatic, jaw dropping scenes where the audience screamed and squirmed with anguish as the scenes of abuse were depicted realistically, with intense emotional impact.

The movie presents a pretty bleak view of Tonya’s upbringing and the intense scrutiny she was under by the media and the public when she rose to compete at her highest level- the 1994 Winter Olympics, and the attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver).

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The real-life Harding has given I, Tonya, her approval, as the film portrays her as a person shaped by abandonment, abuse and is empathetic to her fighting spirit, as she was often looked down upon, being a girl brought up by a single mother with very little money. All she wanted was to be loved as her life was often plagued with abuse, rejection and disappointment. Harding has said that in the film version she didn’t go up and confront the judges about her skating scores, she did that privately in real life, and that she doesn’t swear as much as the film portrayed her to be, that was obviously for dramatic effect.

The film was made with a $11 million budget, and Margot Robbie is impressive with her skating ability and her dedicated, heart felt, gutsy portrayal of Harding. Robbie even herniated a disc in her neck while skating and was so overwrought filming a violent scene with her on screen husband (Sebastian Stan) that she stormed off the set screaming. The film is enhanced with special effects in a few key places – the triple axels and adding more people in the audience.

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Overall the film is impressive with Australian director Craig Gillespie at the helm as the whole cast is outstanding, performance-wise, and they all resemble the actual real-life people they portray. Snippets of them are showed at the end of the movie and during the closing credits. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney deserve to be nominated for the SAG and the Oscars – fingers crossed they’ll win. I rate this movie 8.5/10.

Photos courtesy of I, Tonya, the movie, LuckyChap Entertainment.

 

 

 

 

Film Review – The Greatest Showman

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Hugh Jackman plays PT Barnum, the 19th-Century huckster and circus impresario. A slick musical with upbeat songs by La La Land’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, script written by Jenny Bicks & Bill Condon and directed by Michael Gracey. The Greatest Showman is a rags-to-riches fairytale, starting with a glimpse of his childhood as a poor tailor’s son in Connecticut and in the space of one song, Barnum has grown up, married his sweetheart, played by Michelle Williams, and settled into an office job.

His wife and two daughters are content with what they have and are too virtuous to care about money. Barnum dreams of making the world a more magical place and spreading joy, so he opens the American Museum in New York. First he fills it with waxworks and stuffed animals, and then, on the advice of his daughters, he rounds up a roster of “unique people”: a bearded lady (Keala Settle), a dog-faced boy, a tattooed man, giant man and various other hipsters who are given the opportunity to be proud of their unique attributes.

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Ticket sales are soon soaring and he has to put up with snobs looking down at him, shouting their disapproval, calling it a freak show. What he desperately wants is to be accepted into high society and that’s when he employs a moneyed playwright, Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), to class up his act, but Carlyle gets tongues wagging when he holds hands with a black trapeze artiste (Zendaya). Barnum then arranges for a classical soprano, Jenny Lind, (Rebecca Ferguson) to tour America’s grandest concert halls. He risks everything and tours with Lind which takes him away from his family. Barnum soon gets carried away with success and himself as there are rumours that their relationship is more than professional. One night when celebrating with Lind, Barnum realises the importance of family and leaves her on her own. This causes great drama on tour and back at home where all hell breaks loose. Can he save himself, his family and his business?

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My favourite lines in the film are “Every one of us is special” and “nobody is like anyone else.” It takes great nobleness to spread joy.

Its messages are all positive: don’t judge people by their backgrounds; follow your dreams; family and friendship are more important than money and success.

Hugh Jackman is outstanding and is supported by a wonderful ensemble cast. A great start to 2018 -“Feel good movie of the year!” Congratulations to the writers – Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon.

8.5/10

The Greatest Showman Trailer

Film Review – Three Summers

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Over three years, the same people attend a music festival Westival, staged in rural outback Western Australia and during this time relationships change and evolve.

The main storyline concentrates on the love story between Keevy (Rebecca Breeds), a down to earth pub band fiddler, and theremin player Roland (Robert Sheehan), together they meet at the festival. Roland encourages Keevy to apply to a music conservatorium which causes great drama, especially with Keevy’s father played by John Waters. There are great supporting characters in the film, such as Michael Caton, who plays a racist and Magda Szubanski who is the community radio announcer and Deborah Mailman who plays a therapist who runs the festival’s Alcoholics Anonymous sessions. As a secondary storyline, the film concentrates on some aspects of contemporary Australian society such as the plight of refugees left in unlimited detention and the problems some Aboriginals experience in their communities.

The film was beautifully shot, capturing the beautiful Aussie outback in rural Western Australia. It also ticked all the boxes which is a good step forward in terms of diversity, portraying Multicultural Australia in film. My only question is, “Did the filmmaker concentrate on ticking all the boxes more so than creating a more organic storyline?”

Ben Elton says, “The idea for Three Summers came about during one of my family trips to the Fairbridge Folk Festival in WA. I was sitting in the bar tent doing some people watching, there’s such a rich tapestry of humanity at these sorts of family music events and so much comedy. People from different walks of life suddenly living in a field together with only sheets of canvas and polyester between them. Everybody’s equal in the queue for the portaloos!”

Three Summers’ Aussie soundtrack includes tracks by Little Birdy, Dan Sultan, the John Butler Trio, Xavier Rudd, Gotye, Sarah Blasko , Dr. G. Yunupingu and many more.

The Run time 102 minutes

6.5/10

Diversity Spotlight – Interview with Monica Sayers

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Monica Sayers, is an Australian-Chinese actress and yoga teacher who has worked extensively in different performance mediums over the past 15 years in Australia, the UK and Ireland. She has worked on a number of television series including Love My Way, All Saints, Home and Away, The Clinic (Ireland) and The Royal (UK) and Sydney Theatre Company’s Australian Graffiti and Chimerica and is currently starring in Melbourne Theatre Company’s Hay Fever. 

JOY: What is your cultural background?

MONICA: Chinese with dash of Incan blood! My great grandfather was part Chinese and South American.

JOY: When and where did you graduate?

MONICA: I studied The Journey at Actors Centre Australia in 1998, before graduating from the NIDA acting course in 2004.

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JOY: Who were your role models growing up & why?

MONICA: My mother Barbara was a very big role model in my life, as were my 2 grandmothers, May See and Lily.

Barbara sang in talent quests, was a model for fashion house, Mr Simons, and met my father whilst singing in the band called Parker. They fell in love and became a duo, playing in RSL clubs, cabaret venues and cruise ships. I grew up watching my mum perform regularly whilst holding down a full time job and run a household – I thought she was Superwoman! She was creative, witty, charismatic, yet she was down-to-earth and pragmatic.

My grandmother May See was an extraordinary woman of strength and dedication to her family’s survival during challenging times in China and Hong Kong. She had learnt to speak English at a young age – an invaluable tool utilized time and time again throughout her life. She fought tooth and nail to protect her kids and mother from the Communist party and was courageous and daring in her efforts. Her memoirs have been published by my aunt – Phoebe Sayers, a book called ‘Tomorrow is Another Trial’ a truly unbelievable recount of May See’s journey and her mother’s (my great grandmother’s) life.

My grandmother Lily was the happiest person I ever met! She would smile and laugh mid sentence and just light up a room with her little cackle. She was an animated storyteller and very expressive and emotional. She could cry at the drop of a hat and was soooo in the moment – she could never hold a grudge for very long. She was always the first to laugh at herself and not take things too seriously.

I cherish all that I learnt from these three women and miss them all everyday.

JOY: What made you want to get into the industry?

MONICA: Seeing my parents doing their cabaret act over my childhood and into my young adult life, it made me think having a career in the entertainment industry was possible and not out of the ordinary. Sure they had other day jobs and needed to juggle parenting, but they just made it work. When my sister was born, they stopped doing the tours and settled down in Sydney, but continued to perform.

JOY: How did you get started in your career?

MONICA: I studied music, art and drama in high school; I was in the choir and I used to learn piano, ballet and jazz dancing. I took singing lessons – opera as well as contemporary. I did TV commercials and catalogue modelling. There was no way I was ever going down a different path really – but I made sure to get a few back up jobs to keep the bank balance (and my father!) happy. In my late teens, I joined an extras agency and did some time on Heartbreak High. It grew from there.

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JOY: Do you think there have been positive changes in the industry in regards to stereotype casting or do you think we still have a long way to go?

MONICA: I think in some areas we are making great steps forward to balancing out stereotypes but I also feel, because we do have those characters that are based on real people, it’s hard to break the mould. I think what’s important here is there’s nothing wrong with using stereotypes, so long as they don’t stay confined in that box. Let there be more information about the character come through – something that you might not expect from them. What I find interesting is the thing you’d least expect from something that looks a certain way. Not only do the audience recognise those stereotypes, but I think the wider community can learn from them too. There’s still a way to go yet but certainly heading in the right direction.

JOY: How do you think diversity can be improved in the industry?

MONICA: Seeing people for their talent and skill and not for the colour of their skin, the sound of their accent, or the frizz of their hair.

JOY: What is your breakthrough role?

MONICA: I played Calpurnia in the satirical spoof Dead Caesar at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2007’s second season; directed by the amazing and passionate Tamara Cook, written by the Chaser team, Chris Taylor and Andrew Hansen. It was a hilarious piece and I got to sing on top of a baby grand piano!

JOY: Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years time?

MONICA: I would love to try a hand in directing and possibly producing. Definitely still acting, perhaps in something of my own.

JOY: What advice do you have for future up and coming actors?

MONICA: Keep at it, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it, find a way to make it work if this is why you live and breathe. Also, stay healthy, keep fit and sane (because it’s an insane business and world!) and have a laugh on a regular basis. Oh, and be super nice to stage management and crew – they are our rocks!! No one wants to work with a diva or an ass and word gets around quick so play nice people! 🙂 Also keep a healthy portion of reality on your plate – it’s easy to get swept away when things are flying high or to spiral into a black hole and not know how to climb out. Remember you are not defined by your job or a single review or lack of auditions or the number of awards you win! For me, acting is part of my life – a big part – but I know I need a balanced perspective to be able to have longevity in the industry and there are natural ups and downs. Be prepared. Take action and find other things that make you happy and fulfilled.

 

Photos by Joe Chan & Susan Le Strange.

Diversity Spotlight – Interview with actor Max Brown

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Max Brown is an Asian Australian actor (half Chinese-Singaporean / Anglo-Australian) known for his television roles as Robin Dawal in Neighbours, David Goldman in Glitch Series 2 and Kevin Dang in Secret City and the feature film We’re Not Here To Fuck Spiders (2017).

JOY: What made you want to get into the film/TV industry?

MAX: Story telling. Everyone in the industry has personal goals, but I reckon one thing we share is that we all watched a film or TV show at some point in our lives that had an impact on us and we’re all looking to recapture the moment that moved us and give it back to audiences through story.

JOY: Who were your role models growing up & why?

MAX: I was a bit starved for Asian representation so I grew up identifying with the majority white characters and actors on my screen, but thanks to my Aunty bringing over Hong Kong DVDS when she visited, I got to grow up watching Brigette Linn and Adam Cheng. That recent scandal where the Hollywood Casting Director said Asian actors were expressionless? They obviously never got to see Adam’s charm or Brigette’s depth and presence on screen. I watched their movies again and again as a kid and I still have them on high rotation today. I’ll also add Dante Brasco from Hook as a childhood role model! Such a bad ass. Ru-fi-ooo!

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JOY: How did you get started in your career?

MAX: I actually wanted to be a director and someone told me the best directors knew how actors worked, so I took a part time NIDA course which was being taught by Sam Worthington; he ended up convincing me to ditch directing and give acting a go. My first professional gig was a small part on Home and Away, which involved some complex blocking with cars and guns on my first day…it was a steep learning curve!

JOY: Do you think there’s a positive change in the TV/Film industries for more diversity?

MAX: A lot of actor friends from diverse backgrounds who were struggling for ages are now getting auditions and booking roles and that’s not because they all coincidentally became better actors overnight, it’s because diverse roles are finally starting to be written. The key word there is “starting”. It’s not just about upping the numbers but specifically writing characters that challenge preconceptions across all minorities. I’ve still had to say no to racially stereotypical roles as recently as this year…so we still have a long way to go until we achieve true parity in the industry. But we’re on the right path.

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JOY: Who inspires you in the industry?

MAX: All my friends in this industry inspire me, because I see their constant struggle to be recognised and contribute. Watching them hold down multiple day jobs, deal with the constant rejection and disappointment while still pushing themselves to improve…that always amazes and inspires me.

JOY: What are you working on now?

MAX: Wrapped a small role on the second season of the ABC Netflix series Glitch earlier this year and just got back from LA where I was in the final rounds for a lead character in a TV new series.That was an opportunity that came about partly due to the push for diversity we’ve seen recently, they’re definitely looking for more Asian faces on screen internationally. Coming up, I have a role in a queer short film starring Ra Chapman from new director Chloe Wong. It’s a great script that pokes at society’s views on queer behaviour.

JOY: What is your dream role & why?

MAX: I’d like to remake one of those old Hong Kong movies like “Lover Beware” or “Swordsman II” which also starred Brigette- I think there’s nothing like them in the west and I’d love to bring the ideas and themes from the Chinese fantasy genre to a new viewership. Hero and Crouching Tiger opened that door but they both portray a very stoic interpretation of Asian heroic fiction, and I think the “smiling wanderer” trope would be fresh. It would be interesting to see how the role of a gender fluid character like the Dongfang Bubai would be cast today.

JOY: Where do you see yourself in 10 years time? What do you think you’ll be doing?

MAX: Hopefully I’ll be a lot healthier than I am now haha. But I’m the worst with plans…I have no idea what next year looks like let alone 10! Helping to redefine the depiction of Asians in Western media and diversity in general, would be great.

JOY: What’s your advice for graduates / up and coming actors trying to get in the industry?

MAX: I’ve heard people call acting a marathon, and I reckon that’s good advice. Beyond talent and skill, succeeding in this business is about not giving up and outlasting those who do. Its hard and you’re going to hate it and have no money a lot of the time, but if you want it bad enough, you’ll eventually get a chance. Never give up and be ready for it when it comes.