Monday, December 21, 2009
"Sunday Mourning" by Benito Di Fonzo
(1st Prize 2oo1 Inner City Life Literary Comp.)
The sun's coming up on Sunday as I stumble out of Stanmore,
and the cabs crawl out like cockroaches onto Enmore Rd.
As I steer myself down the spirituous sidewalk I see them search the soiled streets like Sirens
for lost sailors to entice with their warm vinyl Islands, and directions to their cousin Abdul's
where you can purchase a gram of Turkish delight to lull away the recovering day.
As I pedal my feet down the street; blindman's brain riding my body like a battered bicycle,
the stench of fresh sick swims towards me from the bent over boy in the Commodore door
as he attempts to kiss the tarmac with his intestines like a Pope turned inside out.
The Bank Hotel’s bouncer; bored broad shoulders bursting sluggishly through his suit,
looks as fresh as the apathetic kebab that I purchase next door
as he sways from sole to sole, wishing some young Goth would get smart with him
enabling him to expel that pent up energy that bubbles inside of him like a nun's libido.
I veer right and roll towards Erskineville where, outside The Imperial,
a cornucopia of subterranean scenes blend like Bailey's and cream,
and a boy with a beer glass embedded delicately in his face boldly refuses an ambulance
as he floats painlessly on beer, battery acid and testosterone,
then falls flatulent and flat at the fatigued feet of a paramedic like a drunken fish.
I dive through my back door as the dawn clouds change hue, and I escape the segue into day.
Yeah, the sun's coming up on Sunday as I collapse on the couch like a concubine,
with the kidneys of a cockroach and a liver like a stone.
Monday, December 07, 2009
My rating: 4 of 5 stars While at first this took a little time to take hold of me, about halfway through something happened and I became gripped by these poor victims of pathos and warm tales of bathos. Of particular mention are the stories of the bush doctor who performed miracles with monkey glands only to have his research lost to a funeral pyre, and the anger-inducing anecdotes of injustice to simple warm-hearted working folk and felines through nothing but cold greed or apathy. These are tales that will haunt me as they obviously did Marx, when he wasn't fearing alien abduction that is (you'll have to read the book.) Equally fascinating is the fresh angle Marx gives to familiar tragedies such as Steve Irwin as a study in media back-flipping that would make Rupert Murdoch look idealistic, Martin Bryant through the eyes of his father's conundrum, and Micheal Hutchence as he would be considered had he not pranced around impersonating Jim Morrison in front of some fortunate synth players but rather just been some bloke in the corner of the local beer garden. By the end I put "Australian Tragic" on a par with what I consider Marx's masterpiece, "Sorry: The Wretched Tale of Little Stevie Wright." (www.goodreads.com/book/show/4450564.Sorr...) Buy it for someone for Honika or Christmas, then borrow it back before you leave. Or like me, just knick it from Tug Dumbly's kitchen when he's pissed. BDF View all my reviews >>
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
“The tabloid trap”
Absurd ... Bliss intertwines fantasy with the mundane world.
Photo: Edwina Edp
Benito Di Fonzo
Sydney Morning Herald, October 22, 2009
French-Canadian playwright Olivier Choiniere's Blisstakes us into the tabloid-fuelled minds of four shopping centre employees. Like the pages of a trashy mag, it juxtaposes their obsession with Quebecois chanteuse Celine Dion against the tragedy of a crippled girl beaten by her father. Blissdoes this in a heightened world – it is in turns a serious social commentary and blackly comic theatre of the absurd.
The director of the Australian premiere, Shannon Murphy, says: “What really drew me to it is that even though it is so incredibly dark there's actually a lot of humour in it, some of it disturbing and some just outright funny.”
Much of the story emerges from the mind of character the Oracle (Krew Boylan).
“We are actually watching the production through her mind. In a way the Oracle is the Celine Dion character in the sense that she moves from being the girl at the supermarket to being Celine Dion who becomes the victim because she has the miscarriage who then becomes the daughter who the family come to visit, which then becomes a domestic violence case who then . . . ” Murphy says, before trailing off into laughter.
Boylan, along with Libby Fleming, Simon Corfield and Matt Hardie, portrays the characters in the real and imagined worlds of the play.
“My job is to work hard at creating as much clarity within the piece as possible,” Murphy says.
Murphy is no stranger to controversial productions – her shows My Name is Rachel Corrie and Age of Consent dealt in turn with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Jamie Bulger murderers. Murphy believes that, though never purposefully courting controversy, her non-conventional choices stem from being born in apartheid South Africa and growing up in Hong Kong during the Tiananmen Square riots.
“These things have really informed what I do and I believe that I pick stories that do make a bit of an impact,” she says.
Bliss uses its bizarre narrative form to examine a cult of celebrity where, Murphy believes, the turns and travails of celebrities carry too much weight in our lives.
“Like when Michael Jackson dies and how terrible that is [but] a guy that's lived down the street for 20 years dies and we don't even notice,” she says.
Are trashy magazines a blackly comic theatre of the absurd all of their own?
“Completely, and that's what this piece is," Murphy says. "These people work this job and for their escapism they fantasise about celebrities and then their fantasies get incredibly out of control.”
Previews Thursday, runs Saturday to November 22, various times, Belvoir Street Theatre, Surry Hills, 9699 3444, $29/$23.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
In coversation with Toby Schmitz, Travis Cotton & Peter Carstairs concerning Martin McDonagh's "The Lonesome West"
Play fight … Schmitz & Cotton.
Photo: Marco del Grande
"Brothers up in arms"
An Irish play about squabbling siblings will resonate here, writes Benito di Fonzo.
Merging psychotic characters, bleak outlooks and frank episodes of violence, controversial Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's tragicomedies have been hits around the world. So much so that in 1997, McDonagh became the first playwright since Shakespeare to have four plays running concurrently in England.
Peter Carstairs, best known as the director of award-winning Australian film September, has chosen McDonagh's 1997 black comedy The Lonesome West for his first foray into the world of theatre.
Carstairs feels audiences respond to the dramatic range of McDonagh's works.
"He moves from teenage love through to the hypocrisy of the church through to consumerism versus relationships through to happiness compared with living a miserable life - all within the space of two hours," Carstairs says.
The third part of McDonagh's Leenane Trilogy, The Lonesome West tells the story of squabbling Galway brothers Coleman (Toby Schmitz) and Valene (Travis Cotton). Whiskey-priest Welsh (Ryan Johnson) tries to steer them towards a love he himself is unable to secure, despite the attentions of bootlegger's daughter Girleen (Sibylla Budd).
The action takes place in a harsh landscape, where the local girls' football team is celebrated for putting its opponents in hospital and where murder, suicide and verbal abuses are everyday occurrences.
Welsh's reformations are hampered by a hypocrisy that allows the brothers to be absolved of murdering their father via the confessional, while a boy who commits suicide in the lake is eternally damned.
"There is an overlap between Australian taste and Martin McDonagh's style,'' Schmitz says. ''The Irish oral tradition of being a great storyteller even if you are illiterate has some currency here. It's a bard culture, if you will.''
Cotton adds: "I think Australians identify with underdogs. They can relate to these people."
Carstairs felt their years as friends and flatmates would inform the lead actors' portrayal of the constantly fighting kinsmen.
Schmitz admits such violence can be draining. "It does cost you having four fights, six days a week."
Cotton adds with a wry smile: "It's all about not hurting Toby."
THE LONESOME WEST
Until September 13, various times, Belvoir St Downstairs, Surry Hills, 9699 3444, $29/$23.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, June 01, 2009
It's a wild world
Sydney Morning Herald, May 29, 2009
An explicit play explores voyages of self-discovery, writes Benito di Fonzo
"I once masturbated on Tennessee Williams's grave, does that count?" the 26-year-old playwright says.
Whore tells the story of Tim and Sara, two gen Y-ers who have relocated to London in order to anonymously embark on a wild year away from their old lives. Their risk-taking leads to them working in the sex industry and, by the play's end, putting their own lives at risk.
Along the way, Tim and Sara - played by Paul-William Mawhinney and Rhiannon Owen - explore what sexual, moral and commercial boundaries they will accept in the adult lives that await them, if they can survive their early 20s.
"I think everybody, when you're in your late teens and early 20s, goes through a sexual awakening and that awakening is often tied in with your journey into the world, figuring out what the world is about," Viede says. "This play ties those two things together quite explicitly."
During Viede's own gap year - which took the form of a journey across the US, complete with appendicitis, and a stint studying drama at California's UCLA - he managed to avoid the lure of the sex industry.
Like Tim and Sara, however, he had a process of discovering his own limits - his obsession with visiting his hero's grave driving him to ignore the complications he was suffering after a stay in hospital.
"Sometimes a strong personality and willpower are good but there are limits," he says. "Sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand and say, 'Enough is enough, time to go heal, time to go home,' which is pretty much the story of the play."
Back in Australia, Viede began to move from acting to writing. Out of his early experiments came his cabaret alter-ego Glace Chase, whom Viede has toured around Australia. Viede later attempted more serious drama and produced the first draft of Whore. Director Christopher Hurrell spotted its promise. "The level of progress he'd made in his writing in just a few months was amazing," Hurrell says. "Whore seemed so exciting in its first draft that we thought we'd give it a reading straight away."
Hurrell suggested Viede enter the play in the Griffin Award, which it won before being commissioned by B Sharp. More recently, Whore was one of eight plays chosen from 1500 to be staged by the Summer Play Festival in New York.
"Rick's just a little bit older than his characters and I think that that's the crucial element — he's within this culture enough to understand it but outside it a little to be able to observe and analyse," Hurrell says. "At some point I wanted to be able to draw on this connection I found between other young artists and this play and throw open the doors a bit, so I came up with this idea of looking for responses between each of the 10 [scenes] and local musical artists."
Hurrell brought in David Heinrich of the band Lions At Your Door to source songs from local artists that would resonate with the themes of risk, rule-breaking and self-realisation that run through Whore. The soundtrack will be on sale during its season.
"It's not just about finding 10 songs and playing them," Hurrell says, "it's about finding elements of that music that [Heinrich will] work into a more abstract soundscape."
Viede hopes the play pays testament to those people who test the boundaries of who they are and what is acceptable and thereby redefine for all of us what life can be.
"We should tell their stories because they're fascinating," Viede says. "What - do we want to tell more stories about middle-class people living in the 'burbs and how hard it is to be financially secure and successful and have Christmases? I just go no, that's not particularly interesting to me."
And as for his own risk-taking, culminating over a bottle of gin at his hero's grave? "Tennessee would have appreciated it."
Previews Thursday, runs June 5 to June 28, Belvoir St Theatre Downstairs, Surry Hills, 9699 3444, $29/$23.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The Chronic Ills
of Robert Zimmerman:
The Old Fitzroy Theatre
By Victor Kline ArtsHub | Thursday, May 21, 2009
Go, go go!
Do not miss this show!
Benito Di Fonzo has a
decidedly twisted view
of existence which only
serves to feed the madness of this quirky show –
The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman: AKA Bob Dylan (A Lie) -
A Theatrical Talking Blues –
playing at the Old Fitzroy.
He is a writer and performer of diverse tastes and he
doesn’t shrink from tasting
all there is.
This gives his talented director and ensemble
of actors the opportunity
to also taste the fruits of their own art with relish and delight.
I enjoyed seeing a kaleidoscope of
characters from my own past a singin’ and a dancin’ their celebrity
heads off. Congratulations to
Andrew Henry, Leonore Munro,
and Matt Ralph as the Zimm.
As for Lucinda Gleeson’s direction and Simon Rippingdale’s music, why be shackled? I agree.
Go for it! That’s what theatre
needs. And the metaphorical burning of the effigy? If you blinked you missed it, but then you would really be missing something.
Well done to all.
The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman: AKA Bob Dylan (A Lie) - A Theatrical Talking Blues
The Old Fitzroy Theatre,
Dates: May 11, 15-18, 22-25
Friday and Saturday nights at
9:30pm, Sunday and Monday
nights at 8:00 pm
Cast and Crew
Playwright: Benito Di Fonzo
Director: Lucinda Gleeson
Musical Directors: The Company
With: Andrew Henry, Lenore
Munro, Matt Ralph and Simon Rippingale
Photography and Graphic Design: Dan Collopy for Think Five
Producer: Jennifer Hamilton for
Bicycle User Group
To purchase tickets please visit
the Rock Surfers website
Monday, May 11, 2009
(from TRS site - http://www.rocksurfers.org/node/150)
The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman: AKA Bob Dylan (A Lie) - A Theatrical Talking Blues
By Benito Di Fonzo
We follow Bob/Robert as he begins his career by running away from home at ten, twelve, thirteen, fifteen, fifteen-and-a-half, seventeen and eighteen years old. Instructed by Woody Guthrie, he goes in pursuit of a holy grail of songs armed only with a fascist-killing guitar and a dream. Accidentally renamed Dylan in a New York public hospital, he then encounters, corrupts, jams and gets lost at sea with fellow icons Ginsberg, Lennon, Pound, Eliot, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Billy Bragg, and a hipster-Yiddish speaking Abraham Lincoln (to name a few).
“It’s a long story mister, involving bible, ghosts, chaos, clocks, watermelons, everything”
Playwright: Benito Di Fonzo
Director: Lucinda Gleeson
Musical Directors: The Company
With: Andrew Henry, Lenore Munro, Matt Ralph and Simon Rippingale
Photography and Graphic Design: Dan Collopy for Think Five
Producer: Jennifer Hamilton for Bicycle User Group
Producing Company: bicycleusergroup.wordpress.com
The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman is part of the Tamarama Rock Surfers 2009 'Late Sessions' Season, and is in development with TRS's 'Early Sessions' development Program.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Benito Di Fonzo
Sydney Morning Herald, April 9, 2009
Secrets and lies flow when three women get together for a drunken seaside reuinion.
TO WRITE convincing dialogue for his all-female cast, playwright Duncan Graham needed to find a way to get inside the "tribe", as he calls it, of 28-year-old women.
The Adelaide playwright, with director Sarah John, achieved this by setting actresses Adriana Bonaccurso, Wendy Bos and Sarah Brokensha a series of secrets and tiny betrayals to act out on one another.
"'From my point of view it's [a way of] trying to become an insider," Graham says of the process through which he created his critically acclaimed play Ollie And The Minotaur. "We see so many plays about men doing harm to each other that I wanted to explore how women might do this.
"We didn't tell the actresses anything when they came in on day one and started to introduce secrets to them and giving them actions to play, setting up improvisations that gave me a chance to listen to the way they spoke, the way they interacted, the way they dealt with these secrets."
Graham, 34, says this allowed him to understand the three women's interactions more - how they thought, the way they said certain things. Such observations helped bring about Ollie And The Minotaur.
The play tells the story of three female friends at a drunken seaside reunion on the cusp of their "Saturn return". At first, the bitchy poking at one another is all in good fun, bearing a chick-lit innocence to it. Soon, the flow of alcohol calls forth demons from a dark place within their friendship, in particular a secret from their past that occurred - like the mythical Minotaur of the title - in the centre of a local cave. As the play unfolds, the girls are brought back to that dark moment at the centre of their relationship.
"It sneaks up on you, which is great," director John says. "The three women could really bring their experiences and the stories of their friends, then Duncan could really craft it and set up the idea of those masks, so he could set up this Sex And The City world and then slowly reveal these darker themes."
Ollie And The Minotaur, which will have its Sydney debut at Belvoir St Theatre, was hailed in Adelaide and Melbourne as a triumph of naturalism. Along with the dark deprecatory humour in much of the dialogue - "That's one part of the play we can definitely say came from the actors," John laughs - the naturalistic staging is designed to help punters identify with the women as they move towards their own feared self-revelations.
"It does have that faux-doco feel," Graham agrees. "It really invites the audience to be a voyeur and get in the room with the actors and go on the journey and the downstairs space at Belvoir Street is absolutely ideal for that set-up."
John admits there have been defensive reactions from some female audience members about the same age as the protagonists but the real surprise has been how men react to the show.
"Men love it," she says. "Across the board I haven't come across or heard of any response from a guy who hasn't loved it. I think it's
nice to see three young women on stage but also it does provide some insight into this secret life of women."
Just what sorts of secrets were the girls fed in rehearsal? "They were simple ones to begin with, just telling them about their character, and then little bits of information about the other person because the devil's in the three, the interaction of three people, particularly in friendships with women."
So it's a play written through Chinese whispers? "Yeah, it is, almost. What you get is these women hovering around the deeper secret and the way they interact around that deeper secret and the way that secret gets revealed. It becomes a labyrinth of lies, betrayals and deception."
Betrayal, it would seem, is a dish best served with gin and tonic.
Belvoir St Downstairs
25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
17 April 2009 to 3 May 2009
(02) 9699 3444
Previews April 16. See website for performance times.
rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the amazing tale of the world's most deluded, and most posthumously successful, con-man and really gets inside the machinations of his strangely mendacious imagination. You almost admire Hubbard as he streams off one ridiculous lie after another from adolescence onwards so as to make his place in the world with his few other talents - a fact he never faces by creating an ever greater history of himself which often you wonder if even he believes. You can see then just how, sporadically between the 1930s and 1950s, he was able to pump out a several thousand word sci-fi, western or fantasy adventure story nightly by just going out to the shed, often accompanied by a bottle of rum to aid his already overactive imagination, and typing away till dawn when the first of his three wives would send it off (inferring he somehow made very few typos or mistakes in 1st drafts) to whichever magazine he left instructions while he slept till 3pm that afternoon when he would wake up, have a big breakfast, perhaps go fishing and drinking with one of his buddies, to whom he would invent more hole-ridden and stupendous lies about his [in reality:] very flawed military record, and then stumble out to the shed and do it all over again. This would make a fantastic film if it wasn't for the fact that the Dianeticians/Scientologists would sue your ass off. I've heard of one British producer who did attempt to get such a project green-lighted in the 1980s only to have the studio chicken out. I would love to make a film just from the chapter in which Hubbard teams up with a black magician in California under the tutelage of an obviously close-to-death Alistair Crowley back in the UK. This Satanic trio rope in red-headed prostitutes to create a "Moon Child", (envisaged as some kind of Black-Magik Jesus with great powers and under their command.) The whole episode ends with Hubbard running off with the warlock's wife and a whole lot of his money which he uses to buy a yacht and sail away from the cops who have him, even back then a good ten years before he invents Dianetics, as a suspect on fraud charges. This echoes his later life in which he is pursued across the world on his large ship The Flying Scot Man (sic) attended by his followers who are thrown overboard if they disobey, and his nubile teenage "messengers." Even to the end, his cover blown in the press when some of his followers, including his third wife, are caught are caught and tried after attempting to destroy all Hubbard's government records, despite the fact that he sent many of them in himself (constantly denouncing his enemies, including his second wife and her suspected lover, as Communists in letters to J. Edgar Hoover throughout the 50s and 60s, causing the FBI to write him off as someone suspected to be highly mentally unstable and not to be trusted in his official file) Hubbard still believed he would persevere, and on the verge of his death created a film production company in the desert, directing the actors himself and sending those who he deemed unworthy of his direction off to his own feared re-education and punishment corps where they were treated as less than human - as opposed to MORE than human as they had been before, i.e. Thetans, but that's a whole other shtick we don't have time or space to get into here. You can discover the rest for yourself by buying the book online as it's apparently out of print for legal reasons in Australia. (I found this hardback US First Edition for only $US20 on Amazon.) Russell Miller is a former journalist for the Sunday Times in England and importantly lends a strong sense of journalistic integrity to his style. Hence while the first couple of chapters concerning the Hubbard family history and LRH as a child may seem a bit dry and superfluous they are there for a reason which becomes readily apparent in both humanising this weird anti-hero with whom it would otherwise be impossible to empathise with, and as exposition for the later ever-increasing action of the story as it really starts to rise, making the majority of the twenty-two chapters an action packed and hilarious ride, made frightening by the obvious veracity of the Russell Miller's well-researched revelations and anecdotes from those who knew and worked with Hubbard throughout his long, strange life.
View all my reviews.
Monday, March 02, 2009
(unedited version of article originally published in print version of The Sydney Morning Herald.)
“Highway To Helvetica” by Benito Di Fonzo.
“As a form it’s kind of insane,” says Scott Brown, one-half of the writing team behind Gutenberg! The Musical!, “a musical is sort of an inherently unnatural thing that has to be forced into existence by madness, or money, or the equivalent.”
The equivalent in this case were the pitches that the other half of the creative team, and Brown’s childhood friend, Anthony King had to sit through as an intern at Manhattan Theatre Club.
“I had to see readings of tonnes of musicals” says King, “and most of them were really terrible, and after a while I started asking myself who are the people who write these horrible things and how does no-one tell them it’s terrible? Not just a terrible show but terrible ideas and everything? So it was kind of on a dare at first - we decided to write a few songs from a terrible musical and submit them to my boss under fake names to see what he would say about them, and then it took on a life of it’s own and we were seduced by our own horribleness.”
Brown says, “That sort of insane determination that must go into [creating those horrible musicals] was interesting to us, and that’s why we came up with Bud and Doug.”
Bud and Doug are the fictional authors of Gutenberg! The Musical, the show-within-a-show they have written with little knowledge of it’s real-life subject; Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press. Aided only by a pianist and a series of hats Bud and Doug recreate 30 characters from Gutenberg’s life, including fictional love Helvetica to whom they mistakenly attribute the type-font, all as part of a pitch to the Broadway producers they imagine are secreted within the audience.
For the Australian premiere Bud and Doug will be portrayed by local musical stalwarts David Harris (Helpmann Award nominee for Miss Saigon) and James Millar (Green Room Award Winner, author of The Hatpin) accompanied by Bev Kennedy’s piano.
Scott and Brown originally performed the show themselves as a 45 minute skit at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, which King now runs in New York. It turned out there really was a producer in the audience, and he offered to take the show to London if they added a second act. After success in London they brought the show home where it won the 2006 New York Musical Theatre Festival Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre Writing.
“It grew up in the nurturing atmosphere of a basement comedy club and we didn’t necessarily envision it going beyond that,” says Brown.
“We definitely never dreamed that it would become something that would play around the world,” says King.
While Bud and Doug aren’t the most talented guys in the world Brown and King had to create characters that audiences would want to see succeed nonetheless.
“It’s definitely like the audience is laughing at these guys a bit but the charm of the show is that they’re incredibly likeable and energetic, so the audience is [also] rooting for them,” says King.
Like Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers?
“That’s a good term for it – we’ve always really liked people who have no idea how off the deep end they are.”
Brown adds, “They are beautiful losers who over the course of the show create their own reality just with the force of their own idiotic aspirations.”
Like many satirists Brown and King admit to loving the target of their jibes.
“We were big musical theatre nerds growing up,” says Brown, “there’s something glorious and sort of liberatingly stupid about bursting into song to express oneself. I think [Gutenberg! The Musical!] isn’t so much a critique of musical theatre as our full embrace of it’s silliness and it’s triumphs.”
A truly unconditional love then?
“It is I think. We were really careful when we wrote the show, we weren’t interested in punishing Bud and Doug for their stupidity, we weren’t interested in their hubris.”
Are there any musical theatre practitioners that should be punished?
“I don’t think there’s anything that Guantanamo Bay could do to musical theatre that it hasn’t already done to itself, it is an art form for masochists, that seems pretty clear.”
GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL!
17 – 21 February, return season 14 - 25 July, various times, Seymour Centre (Downstairs Theatre), Chippendale, 02 9351 7940. $39/$32.