Reginald Theatre, January 15
Not only is the character a natural raconteur, but so is the playwright who created her (who’s also the actor playing her), and so you find yourself caught like a fly in a web of story-telling that grows stickier and denser as the play unfolds. And if that’s not enough to keep you ensnared, actor/writer Jonny Hawkins also layers in a depth and warmth of humanity to make you think that, despite the despots and toadies, perhaps we aren’t such a wretched species after all.
Magnificently flouting many of the “rules” of drama and narrative, this episodic one-hander was co-conceived and directed by Nell Ranney. On the basis of this effort she and Hawkins are a formidable double-act – one the major theatre companies should be begging to do anything that seems a good idea at the time.
“I am Kings Cross,” declares Maureen, and she has a point. Before the Nimby invasion, she and her ilk were the soul of the Cross, when eccentricity and tolerance strolled Macleay Street arm in arm. Now in her 80s, Maureen has memories enough not just to fill a 70-minute play, but to people a suburb. Although she alone inhabits the stage, the rest teem in our minds, as real as death.
She’s a “harbinger of death” because of her knack for predicting people’s demise. More than a knack: she has it all in a notebook. She also has a tendency to be on hand when it happens, and lays out before us the demise of two friends and a neighbour as if they are immaculately presented meals. Death in Maureen’s world is less a shock or a tragedy than a matter of style – like the department store windows she used to dress.
Her friend Bunny dies the almost perfect death, in the arms of a semi-naked Hugh Jackman on a Broadway stage. When the AIDS-stricken Dennis can’t quite engineer such a finale, Maureen helps him on his crossing, and smooths away the bumps with silk and champagne. Her neighbour Tenille passes less elegantly, but Maureen is there to tidy things up, and lean on the cops to keep them tidy.
So expert is she in death that she converses with a picture of Persephone on the wall, and as well as relating the relevant Greek myth, she imparts a modernised, no-holds-barred version, with Harley Davidsons and a fresh slant of female self-determination.
Having created a (semi-biographical) character whom we’re enchanted to meet, Hawkins plays her with such magnanimity that she grows in our hearts, gladdens us, saddens us, and makes us want her to live forever. Yet darkness haunts her dreams when she drops off to sleep, and, besides, Hades was beckoning Maureen from the moment Hawkins took the stage.
That was as a version of himself, metamorphosing into Maureen before our eyes by donning a skirt that seems part of Isabel Hudson’s set, so in becoming Maureen he becomes part of her room, and her room becomes part of her. Such is the conceptual investment that Hawkins and Ranney have made in refining this.
Even if occasional rogue lines and slight lapses in Hawkins’ performance slip through the web, this is a one-hander to mention in the same breath as The Elocution of Benjamin Franklin, and there can hardly be higher praise. The work was extensively developed before this production, and it shows – a lesson for all playwrights and theatre companies.