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Above left: Suzie Porter and Marcus Graham.

Above right: Kenji Fitzgerald and Emily Barclay.

Images credit: Michael Corridore.

POSTED: 17 FEBRUARY 2010

That Face, by Polly Stenham

Company B | Belvoir Street Theatre, Surry Hills, Sydney | Until 14 March

That Face is a brutal dissection of a dysfunctional, affluent, nuclear family penned by novice, Generation Y dramatist, Polly Stenham, whose one-act play analyses the modern, upper-middle class, and their substitution of artificial for real values.

Stenham derives her themes from psychoanalysis, specifically the influence of Freud’s theories — neuroses, hysteria, irrationality and hypertension. They’re all here and manifested in the split-personality life of Martha, played by a magnificent Suzie Porter making her Company B debut.

Martha is an alcoholic, valium-dependent divorcée abandoned by her Hong Kong-based ex-husband (Marcus Graham). The claustrophobic, clinical, white set, ironically dominated by a dishevelled double bed, is the prison from which we view the dysfunctional, mutually dependent relationship between Martha and her boy/man son, Henry (Kenji Fitzgerald ).

Henry has given up his education and prospects to assume the role of nurse and toy boy, naively believing he has the power to save her. Fitzgerald is able enough in this role but lacks the depth of passion to convince us totally of his masochistic addiction to the co-dependency trap.

It is the threatened expulsion of daughter Mia from her exclusive boarding school — for complicity in a sadistic initiation ceremony — that interrupts the dysfunctional domestic scene. Mia (Emily Barclay) returns to her home base, realistically portraying the modern privileged teenager and their detached sense of entitlement. As family issues erupt, the 16-year-old is the calm, dispassionate, potential psychopathic onlooker who stands at the centre of the conflict between mother, brother and father.

The children’s father, Hugh, is a broker who may or may not be the catalyst for this mess. He started a new family in Hong Kong and jets in to rescue Mia from expulsion by throwing money around. He is horrified by what he sees and is forced to finally face up to his responsibilities.

This psychologically astute drama, influenced by Ancient Greek and American drama, results in a mixture of operatic tragedy and black comedy illustrating the distorted shapes into which love can be twisted.

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