Tag Archives: Tobsha Learner

173: The Glass Mermaid

14 Oct

Tobsha Learner’s The Glass Mermaid is a domestic drama with paranormal threads. Sara has come back to the island home she used to live in with her husband Karl. It’s a year since Karl walked into the ocean in an apparent suicide, searching for the “song behind all songs”.

John W Waterhouse: Mermaid

John William Waterhouse: Mermaid

Sara has come back to her home to try to find her husband, to enact a ritual whereby he might return from the dead and let her know why he died or point out the murderer if there was one. She is frequently interrupted by two neighbours Julian and Kristin, who were friends of hers and Karl’s as well as acting as caretakers of the island.

Karl was a scientist and philosopher, fascinated by phenomenology and loved and envied in equal measures by Julian. What lifts The Glass Mermaid out of the ordinary is the entrance of a Bosnian escort named Janko. He visits Sara by mistake and she decides to pay him to wear her husband’s clothes and smoke his pipe so that she can talk to, caress and make love to her husband again. As you might expect, they fall in love with each other and what began as a service becomes a relationship.

JANKO: I am tired of not dreaming. Of sleeping with pain behind the eyes. And tonight I come here because I want you to know me. Janko Kavoic.

SARA: That’s not what I hired you for.

JANKO: I am not here for the money, Sara.

The last character to arrive on the scene is Cassandra, Sara’s 17-year-old daughter. All the characters have secrets that are slowly uncovered in the course of the play. Some of the resolutions (like Kristin’s) come abruptly and without enough character development, others feel inexorable.

The Glass Mermaid reads a little like a paranormal whodunnit with a romantic heart. I loved seeing a strong central character in her late 40s but it’s Janko, the war-damaged, bereaved emigre who captured my allegiance. There are moments of heightened prose, like when Janko describes almost drowning in the Sava river when the ice breaks beneath the soldiers crossing.

JANKO: We are sliding, our fingers clutching at the surface, no one is screaming, it is too quick, we are sliding into the river, the freezing river. And the ice, she closes up above our heads. As if we had never been there … I see the others floating down, struggling with their packs. Like crazy ballet dancers. I am dying I think. My cousins’ faces like ghosts in the green water.

Publisher: Currency Press

Cast: 3F, 2M

74: Wolf

3 Jun

Tobsha Learner’s play Wolf is dedicated to Priapus (that minor deity with a permanent erection). I was attracted to it for its promise of fable and drama and there are aspects that deliver on the promise.

play and lamp

There’s a wonderful image of an old dining room table with carved dog feet at the bottom of its legs, which begins to bleed as the play gets going. There are leaves that blow onto the stage, helping conjure that Red Riding Hood feel of a walk in the woods and the danger that waits in the shadows.

But, for me, much of the play was banal compared to this dramatic premise. Daniel Lupus is the wolf of the title. The play traverses his life from boy to hippie to artist to graphic designer and his constant need to conquer and then abandon every woman he meets. We meet some of his conquests as well as Deidre (the woman he married), Toni (the childhood friend who has stayed by him throughout) and his art dealer, Bart.

The characters talk about sex, gender, politics and about sex again. They talk a lot. There isn’t much action apart from the occasional coupling on or under the table. Some of the banter is witty and some of it feels old and tired.

TONI: If people can’t help themselves they don’t deserve to be helped. This whole country’s like a glorified government bureaucracy. Handouts everywhere.

DEIDRE: You sound like that new British Prime Minister.

DANIEL: Margaret …

DEIDRE: Thatcher.

And later:

TONI: You move towards someone new and find your legs dragged down by four broken hearts, two failed marriages and a couple of abortions. Give me a goldfish any day, at least it’s guaranteed unconditional love.

The scenes that were most interesting in my mind were the fantastical ones, when Daniel channeled the wolf.

DANIEL: The wolf says,
Ahhh, the red, the lust and all meaty things of ecstasy.
I tremble! My mouth is full of spit! And
the whiteness of small finger bones. This is life! This is
happiness! This is the beginning of all that a Wolf dreams of! I will have this maiden!

Publisher: Currency Press

Cast: 3F, 2M

30: Witchplay

20 Apr

Tobsha Learner’s Witchplay is a one-woman play about survival, intolerance and spirits.

Katherine reading play

Batcha is an elderly medium, trying to contact the spirit of her neighbour’s mother: who was electrocuted by her hair dryer. The only problem is that there are a whole lot of other spirits who want to get in first and tell their stories.

BATCHA: No…not that chair, that’s Jacov’s chair…every night it waits for him…forever thirty and the arms they hang like broken sticks…Listen…they say that a murdered man never finds peace…he just wanders…like chicken feathers…up and down…up and down…until the day he would naturally die and they say he goes to heaven…heaven…my kind of heaven…beautiful boys swimming in borscht…with shoulders like fantastic pillows…

There’s a lot of humour and bawdy goings on as well as some tender moments and plenty of horrible ways to die, mostly due to persecution. Batcha is her family’s only survivor of Auschwitz and she’s now living in Australia. It’s incongruous hearing her talking to Narelle and trying to reach Maureen, while long gone spirits of a woman murdered for witchcraft and a young goat herd who killed his wife for having sexual appetites constantly interrupt Batcha’s flow to tell their own stories.

I’m interested in the one-person genre of plays and Tobsha Learner has done a clever job of making the one actor, multiple characters convention work by making her central character a medium, possessed by the spirits of the other characters.

Published alongside One Small Step by Heather Nimmo.

Publisher: Currency Press

Cast: 1F (and one rabbit)