Photo: Jeff Busby
An apologia is a formal or literary defence of one’s position, usually political or religious. It is not, as the caustic heroine of this second play from popular Anglo-Greek playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell reminds us, to be confused with an apology.
For Kristen Miller (Robyn Nevin), a staunchly Marxist-Feminist-Humanist art historian (wow!) who cut her political teeth in the student protests of the sixties, the best kind of defence is offence. But among the many she has offended over the years are her two sons, Simon and Peter, who accuse her of having abandoned them.
Has Kristen’s trailblazing political commitment been at the expense of her family?
The scene is a familiar one: a family reunion, carefully disparate cast of characters, plenty of wine and plenty of accusations. Peter (Ian Bliss) is an IMF-type banker recently engaged to Trudi (Laura Gordon), a bubbly evangelical American Christian. Simon (Patrick Brammall) suffers from depression and is drifting through life on the arm of a vain, b-list celebrity, Claire. Also at the dinner is Bruce (Ron Falk), a jolly queer and veteran activist that Kristen keeps around, apparently for entertainment.
The sparks should fly, but Jennifer Flowers’ direction seems overly concerned with an equality of impact between these various characters and their carefully differentiated positions. There is some justification for this in the script, where Kaye Campbell, with a tolerance that boarders on dullness, provides each character with a generous monologue of self-justification.
But this fidelity to Kaye Campbell’s democratic impulse means the characters seem stilted in their delivery and hesitating in their interactions, as though nervous of impinging on one another’s right-to-revelation. As such, the many scornful accusations freely tossed about rarely hit home.
There are some extremely funny moments, but there is also a mechanical feel to the way that the drama progresses, an absence of pathological urgency in the climax and an overall lack of venom to the bickering. But perhaps one has to take the Britishness of it into account. As Bruce notes: the British would rather have an arm amputated than cause a scene.
Nevin as the fierce virago seems lacking in energy for this latest role, which will disappoint those hoping for a repeat of her scintillating performance in August Osage County. Brammall, as the younger brother, almost steals the show in his brief appearance, bringing an emotional fragility missing from all the rest. Ron Falk and Helen Christinson and are hilarious, while Ian Bliss and Laura Gordon are good, but are asked to do too much heavy lifting to really shine.