Eternity Playhouse, July 11
The idea of “blue” conjures a different image in every mind. Is morality also plastic enough to be swirled together with other shades on a palette, or is it an absolute? Even if it exists as an absolute conceptually, what about in practice?
Timothy Daley’s The Man in the Attic churns such questions up with magnanimity, serenity, forgiveness, greed, lust, exploitation and evil, and then leaves its four characters to find their own depth in the moral quagmire. Two of them sink without a trace.
Based on a true story, the play won the 2007 Patrick White Playwrights’ Award, and yet, such is the parlous treatment of many local dramatists, is only now receiving its Australian premiere. While not devoid of flaws, it is well crafted, and in the wife (Danielle King) it has a fascinating character whose morals are as fluid as her motives; a fundamentally good person hurled into a maelstrom where evil prospers.
That maelstrom is the dying months of World War II in Germany. Looking for berries, the wife finds a man in need (Barry French), whom she impulsively takes home. Only when her husband (Gus Murray) rifles through the man’s wallet do they discover he’s a Jew. If they are to shelter him they must hide him (hence the attic), but he must also pay his way. His skills as a jeweller and repairer are such that he becomes the household’s primary breadwinner; becomes indispensable, war or no war.
French is superb as the philosophical Jew, who, despite his solitary life (the attic is nailed shut) is grateful to be alive, and who, with the aid of a telescope and astronomy book, cultivates the stars as friends in a friendless world.
King catches the nuanced complexity of a wife torn between pity and pragmatism, but the excellence of her verbal delivery is compromised by her hanging arms. Although her husband is more opportunist than committed Nazi, Murray’s portrayal is still too blithe. If their neighbour (Colleen Cook) seems more committed, she, too, is ultimately intent on weaselling her way out of the “Sieg Heil” world, and Cook finds the type; misses the rounded character.
Performed on a Hugh O’Connor set that manifests a shattered world and rotting ideology, Moira Blumenthal’s production can’t quite compensate for the missing edge of tension in Daley’s script. Perhaps the Jew, too, needed flaws greater than gullibility and hope.