Sunday, January 23, 2011


Mr Malkovich has been all the talk of the town for the last week and I'm afraid it hasn't been all good. In a tribute to 'star power', tickets to the The Giacomo Variations sold like hot cakes. Never mind that John Malkovich's reputation is essentially as a film actor, Steppenwolf and Broadway* notwithstanding, and that he hasn't, as far as we know, been lauded as a fine Mozartian. And the performance was to be in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, one of the least intimate venues in town, where some small percentage of the audience would see his face, but all would at least hear his voice, albeit via a loudspeaker. However, there was at least one known known - the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was a co-presenter.

I can't criticise the rush. I was in it, swayed by an interesting conceit (Casanova takes a good hard look at himself, using Mozart and Da Ponte, contemporary and acquaintance respectively, to help flesh out the meaning of things), the Malkovich star thing, the orchestra, and the niggling fear that it could be so good, and so one-off, that it would be one of those things you kick yourself for missing. Third back row upper circle - mmm, not great, but you never never know if you ....

We started Week Malkovich with the Jim Sharman interview at the Town Hall on the Monday night. I like the opportunity to see people live - their size, their stature, their composure, their attitude to audience, and their answers of course - and I especially like Jim Sharman, baptised with his scandalously brilliant 1974 Rock Horror Show in Glebe, notably starring Reg Livermore's Betty Davis Dr Frank-n-Furter and Kate Fitzpatrick's Magenta. Reg Livermore isn't done with us yet by the way - his new show with Nancye Hayes just happens to coincide with Mardi Gras.

When they (Sharman and Malkovich) shuffled onto the stage, late, after the usual scrum of everyone struggling ever so politely to get into the place and then trying to divine the seat numbers (some IQ test I failed miserably), a hushed silence came over the hall, almost a reverence. Goodness. Mumbling into his hand JS kicked it off by asking about seduction and what JM had gleaned about it, from the current show, or any other, or life..... And so on. After an hour I was left with a rough superficial impression of John Malkovich, raised in the midwest in a somewhat dysfunctional Croatian American family, finding his way to Chicago, onto the stage, into film, into the world, through relationships or marriages, names not an issue, now living mostly in Europe (France) enjoying a reputation, except he doesn't seem to, enjoy it that is, because 'it' just is, which is rather nice.

There were interesting thoughts on art (a heart in conflict with itself), stage craft (be ambivalent, yes is no and no is yes, be in the now, and be the vessel, the empty vessel for the audience to enter) and film, where take after take means little till the rushes are seen, and Betty Davis had a big head. These I remember, though I can't say that's what I heard, exactly. Anyway, it was interesting, if overly serious and in need of a good dose of the larrikan. I thought Mr Malkovich deeply serious, and just maybe that's not really the best place to be. And I have to say, I thought Jim Sharman's questions beautifully informed with a rare depth of experience and the insight of a soul that has asked itself the questions in more private moments. I could have stayed another hour and had JM interview JS.

Now to Mr Malkovich as Casanova. Thursday night was to have been the first night I think, but an extra show had been played the night before. These hot cakes were hot. Karr-ching. The concert platform held three oversized 18C hooped panniered skirts, each capable of hiding an army even before theatrical exaggeration, or at least a bed or so for the naughty moments.

Except that it was wasn't naughty, or funny, or anything much, except rather serious, at least from where we sat, half the surtitles blocked by the lighting, and the band played on, as Giacomo I (JM), Giacomo II (Andrei Bondarenko, Ukranian born of lovely young baritone voice), Isabella I (Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Lithuanian born soprano) and Isabella II (Martene Grimson, Sydney Con graduate based in London) all came and went and I really wasn't sure who was who. If they were all trying to make sense out of life great mysteries, and man's great hormones, then I was trying harder still. And then, as if a veil had lifted, JM stepped up the footlights, and as the band played a sprightly Ecco la marcia from Figaro, he spoke with such animation, and conviction, and intent, I was quite moved, even though I had no idea what he was saying.

We didn't go back after interval. It was simply the wrong venue, way too long and loose, with a generally less than professional (SSO excepted, conducted by Martin Haselböck, who had a big finger in this pie, together with writer Michael Sturminger) feel about the whole thing. Despite a not altogether overwhelmingly successful recent Cosi (which is too long anyway, so shoot me), I kept wondering what Jim Sharman would have made of it, or rather made it into.

* In 1984 John Malkovich won an Emmy for Biff in Death of a Salesman with Dustin Hoffman, the year of my first visit to New York, seeing amongst so many other things, yes, that Death of a Salesman. After a year in Paris, mostly at "La Varenne", L had joined us for the fortnight, with a list of where to dine. In a crowded schedule this was the night we had set aside for Georgine Carmella in Little Mulberry Street, Italian in little Italy in big New York, oblivious to the stupidity of trying to eat way down there before a show way up there. We were still learning, slowly. So thanks to dearest L, no longer here now, the very generous Georgine Carmella opened her restaurant early and there we were, eating porcini mushrooms fresh from Rome that day, gently tossed in something ambrosial, before being sped off in a yellow cab to midtown, just in time.

No comments: