24 May 2017

Review: Minnie and Liraz

Minnie and Liraz
Melbourne Theatre Company
22 May 2017
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 24 June
mtc.com.au

Minnie & Liraz. Virginia Gay, Rhys McConnochie, Nancye Hayes. Photo by Jeff Busby

One of the many things I love about Lally Katz's writing is that it really doesn't matter when a new show doesn't quite hit the mark. Often new writing needs to get on a stage and be seen before it really finds what it's meant to be and Minnie and Liraz, MTC, needs some time on (and off) the stage to find its stride.

The 90-something Cohens, Minnie (Nancye Hayes) and Morris (Rhys McConnochie), have been married for 70ish years and are living in an expensive, bland and peach-coloured retirement home in Caulfield (that doesn't feel like Caulfield). When Minnie's bridge partner dies, Liraz (Sue Jones) is  determined to take her place. The Cohens don't like aggressively loud Liraz, but she does have a single 36-year-old grandson (Peter Paltos) who might be perfect for their single 38-year-old granddaughter (Virginia Gay) – grandchildren would be worth the price of Liraz in the family. And for a lot of the night, the story plays out how it's expected to – but this is a Lally Katz play, so it's easy to reject the peach-coloured view of the world before getting too comfortable.

Katz writes from her life and the Cohens are based on her own grandparents and, perhaps, her own experience of finding someone who's your-kind-of-awesome in your late 30s. At her best, Katz's characters are created from such a place of love and understanding that it's impossible to see them as fiction.

Minnie and Liraz is at its most delightful when it explores character. With loving and detailed performances and direction (Anne-Louise Sarks) that focus on character, the love for these people  drive it far more than its story.

However, as the romance trajectory and the death of at least one oldies is inevitable, the plot and climax feel forced – no matter how funny – and there's a lot of awkward exposition that bring us back to watching the construct of the play rather than being in the world with these people. Much of the exposition is through Norma (Georgina Naidu). She's the staff member who knows her residents too well but always feels like the outsider or a convenience, like her running a memoir class that lets Morris tells the story that  tells everything about him but doesn't sit in the narrative.

Minnie and Liraz often feels as peachy safe as its decor and design. But does anybody really like peach? Lets hope we get the chance to see the much darker and tighter work that it will become.


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