by Hannah Moscovitch, directed by Petra Kalive
Review by Juliana Payne
Having dutifully read in the publicity that Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes is about a university lecturer and one of his students, I naturally fell to wondering if this was going to be a revisit to David Mamet’s Oleanna territory. Thankfully it was not, and wonderfully it was a much more nuanced and subtle play brought to life with verve, skill and energy by two proficient actors.
There’s no need to talk too much about ‘plot’ in this play – it’s all been done before – older man who just can’t help himself with younger and seemingly complicit starry-eyed woman. But the plot’s not the thing here – it’s character and point of view that Hannah Moscovitch gets stuck into. Dan Spielman’s rendition of Jon is so seamless and naturalistic that he had the audience wrapped around his little finger. The dry, world-weary and seemingly self-deprecating delivery of Jon’s dialogue is so beguiling, so attractive and just so funny that we almost forget that he is an abominable man. The skill of the playwright is that she endows him with a kind of Humbert Humbert irony – because we apparently receive the whole story from his point of view, the unwary audience member could easily fall into the trap that so many do with Nabokov’s Lolita, and start to believe the disingenuous irony of his point of view.
Izabella Yena needs different acting skills to portray Annie. With much less dialogue, she needs to convey a significant presence without the assistance of long speeches to convey her point of view. Yena managed this pretty well, and was able to convince us that Annie mattered; as well as effectively conveying her development as she changed her style and tone over the 10 or 11 year span of the play.
The set comprised only Jon’s things – the stage was edged with his desk, his lounge furniture, his tables and books, reminding us always that we were on his turf. The large raised square centre stage was used to represent either the green lawn of a middle-class home, or different arenas where Jon and Annie conduct their affair. Although I wondered why Jon, the famous louche academic and writer, would be mowing the lawn, the staging made good symbolic use of the space; where from time to time whoever had the upper hand also had the upper level of the raised stage.
The program notes mention that Xanthe Beesley’s movement consulting brings physicality to the characters’ mental states. One could see what they were trying to do, but sometimes the crossing back and forth the stage and up and down the raised platform was a bit distracting – especially when they’d walk through what was previous a ‘wall’ but was now a ‘doorway’ in the imaginary space. But the staging along with the lighting – which dimmed and brightened to represent inner monologues or real-world dialogue – was well crafted to fill the space between the audience and the two actors upstage.
This is a relatively short play these days, coming in at 80 minutes. With clever and witty subtitles projected over each change of scene, and musical stings to keep the mood and pace flowing along, it is a worthwhile example of the benefits of keeping it tight. There were no lags for audiences to start shuffling and coughing in, meaning we were focused fully on what came next – a great achievement for a live performance.
Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes brings genuine innovation to the social commentary around #metoo – it’s also really funny and the actors are a treat to watch. The sting in the tale gives you a nice little adrenalin shot at the end so you can leave on a high note and talk about it all the way home.
Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes plays until 10 July at the Belvoir Upstairs Theatre. Find tickets from $35-$70 here.
ORIGINAL SET & COSTUME DESIGNER
COMPOSER & SOUND DESIGNER