Pander 9 (November 1999)
Salt, by Elisabeth Easther, produced by Sharyn K Duncan, designed by Sean Coyle and Katrina Chandra – with Amy Nye and David Press – New Works Festival, Silo Theatre, 14-24 July.
Here’s the opposite to Auckland Theatre Company’s Foreskin: rough and raw, where that is slick and seamless. Salt’s set is simple, sandy, in-your-face, Foreskin’s elaborate, painstaking, accurate. Salt, finally, is lively and provocative, Foreskin the “crypt trip” (to quote Ken Kesey on Timothy Leary) with a vengeance.
So what’s the play about? Two travellers, a father and a daughter, are – somewhat implausibly – stranded in the middle of a sandy desert in America. They quarrel, reconcile, quarrel again, discuss futile strategies for rescue, and finally crawl off to sleep in their derelict car.
Of course, it wouldn’t be theatre if it didn’t have a twist, and here that consists of a reversal in the father’s apparent stability and the girl’s designer rebellion (I won’t say any more in case you get the chance to see it some day).
Put like that, it’s a little hard to see how Easther can profitably occupy an hour and a half of our time. She has a good ear for dialogue (witness the fact that one could overhear many of the lines in a Ponsonby Road café any day of the week), but there’s nothing strikingly original about her vision of the generation struggle.
Perhaps that’s it, though. There’s nothing clever here – just energetic re-presentation of the obvious: things we too have thought and heard, but want to see acknowledged somehow. Energy, too, from the two fine actors: both (as is becoming so common on Auckland stages) Shortland Street alumni.
The characters are, perhaps, a little caricatured (or so one might think if, as I discovered in conversation afterwards, analogues for each didn’t so readily spring to mind); the conclusion is perhaps a little pat, but at least there’s no falsifying resolution imposed on this little drama – no Foreskin-esque attempts to square it with the spirit of the age.
Salt, then, is just that: a little salt in the wound of our complacency, as deadpan as possible a report on experience. What is perhaps most significant about it is that Auckland again has a venue for such work. The Silo Theatre (just behind the Auckland Town Hall, at the back of Queen Street) apparently glories in the unevenness and jagged edges of the productions it houses.
To date, they’ve been an impressive bunch. For the first time in a long time, it’s possible to feel that theatre is alive and well in this city, alive and well as it was in the days when Seb Black and Mervyn Thompson (peace to his ashes) were ushering in a new age: workshopping a groundbreaking new play about the national game to be entitled Foreskin’s Lament …