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Californian Lives – OSO Arts Centre, London

Writer: Martin Foreman

Director: Emma King-Farlow

Reviewer: Fran Beaton


californianlivesIt is a theatrical challenge knowing how to begin a monologue. How do both the writer and the actor manage to engage an audience with nothing to go on? This is a task faced by Martin Foreman in his Californian Lives. The three act play consists of three monologues, each from a Californian, synoptically reflecting on their lives.

Opening a monologue is tricky enough, but harder still is making the audience understand why the monologue has been written at all. This is the overriding feel of Foreman’s play. The monologues are extremely tenuously connected, linked only by location. For an audience, this is irrelevant and leaves them wondering why Foreman has put these three, utterly incongruous, pieces together in one play.

The first monologue is performed by Robin Holden. Set in a cafe in Los Feliz, Holden plays a 34 year old divorcee, recounting the tale of his first, disappointing, romantic encounter since the breakdown of his marriage. Holden’s performance is animated and enthusiastic. He holds the attention of the audience well and uses pace effectively when building up to the climax of the piece, underwhelming though the climax might be. His Californian accent is dubious, ranging across the east and west coast with a detour via Italy and, at one point, India. The content begins well but fails to maintain the intrigue throughout. Holden does his best to make something of the lacklustre ending of the monologue and with his captivating performance, just about manages it.

The second monologue is the highlight of the play. Performed by John Vernon, it depicts an aging homosexual, wiling away afternoons in a bar. Vernon brings a beautiful nostalgia to the piece that charms his audience. Although the plot of the monologue is weak and difficult to follow in places, Vernon’s performance renders this irrelevant and the audience is left enjoying his solo creation of a host of different characters. He is a delight to watch.

Unfortunately, the final monologue, and only one portraying a woman, is the weakest. Foreman fails to get inside the female psyche, writing lines for the widow that jar with audience and seem outdated: “Remember when I read all those feminist books?”. The effect of the piece would have been stronger if an older actress had been cast. The character, who is lamenting the death of her husband, speaks as though she is well into old age but Carolyn Lyster does not look more than mid fifties. The pathos of this piece is lost because of this. Lyster’s performance is wooden and her accent slips between Californian lilt and overworked British. Of all the actors, she has the hardest job bringing the text to life and is unable to convince the audience with her emotional outbursts.

Californian Lives is a pleasant piece but with no foundation. The monologues are taken from Foreman’s collection of short stories and the transition to stage does not do them justice. Though touching and charming stories they may be, they are not sufficiently engaging to tackle the monologue form.

Runs until 21st September

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