The Polite Gentleman
PICA Performance Space
Review: Jake Dennis
The Polite Gentleman is a meditation on an Australian working man, symbolically named Mouse, who is struggling to come to terms with unfulfilled childhood dreams, a decaying marriage, the monotony of working life, and the pervasive feeling that he leads a life of infinitesimal significance.
The Aussie bloke in mid-life crisis, desperate to escape his situation, wishes he pursued the talent which made his father proud: performing with guitar as a country blues singer-songwriter.
Mouse's wish for a more exciting life is answered by Satan.
This Faustian twist transforms what could have been a contemporary study of postmodern man's mid-life crisis into a much too revisited fable, this time complete with farm animals.
A backyard yarn as gritty and textured as dust and rocks in a desert soon becomes a slightly stale fable that belongs to an era twenty-first century Australians have mostly moved past.
The primary female character in the play, aptly named Isabella, is the protagonist's housewife who sleeps with his best friend and is punished by the patriarchal order.
Despite this, Mark Storen's ocker jokes, which rely heavily on swearing for comic effect ("just get on with the bulls**t until the bulls**t is over."), endear him to the audience.
Yet casting the Devil in the play as a chicken that was, in its previous form, a dog of the kind "you want to cuddle or shoot with a gun" (narrator's description), is yet another easy ploy for humour as is the casting of the devil/chicken's assistant as a horny heifer.
On a surface level the absurdity seems to work and the culinary association (devilled chicken) follows through on the play's musical debt to the American South.
However, the construction of the play's only other female character as subservient, over-sexed, and literally an undesirable cow, cements this reviewer's assessment of the script as unfortunately (and impolitely) patriarchal.
Nevertheless, with fingers dramatically spry, Storen is a mesmerising storyteller to whom the audience responds with attention.
He has created a character whose disenchantment with the capitalist fiction that "if you work hard you will get somewhere," resonates with many.
Storen performs songs which complement the narrative well and many more would have been welcome as the ones that were played were creative, poignant, and passionately delivered.
The set comprises an electric insect killer, an acoustic guitar and amp, a chair, and Storen in front of a carpet with a dramatic cut in it.
Enhanced by Chris Donnelly's lighting direction, the set is one of the strongest aspects of the show.
Andrew Weir's evocative soundscape, which samples American and Australian blues, provides the finishing touches to a show that will appeal to some more than others.
Is the driving moral an imperative of this fable the preservation of the hetero-normative nuclear family?
Is the moral of the story never to wish for more than what you (don't) have?
Or is Storen simply reminding us that the blues is the best balm for your troubles?
Challenge yourself to interpret it then decide.