Alana Valentine’s plays strive to deliver some social insight, often with a queer perspective, but also to transport us with something theatrical and magical.
She achieves all this commandingly in her play about the bisexual mid-20th century American writer Carson McCullers.
Carson is first shown as a rebellious, sexually curious teenager feeling cramped in a small town in the Deep South and bursting with excitement at the visit of a circus freak show.
It’s a stylish and appropriate start for a work about a writer celebrated for her so-called Southern Gothic style and her novels like The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter about seething townships and alienated misfits.
McCullers was famously candid about her many female lovers, and her sexuality bred in her a dislocation from society and an empathy for others at odds with the norm.
Valentine’s play snapshots some of her early career, her parents, her deep resentment of small-town racism, her escape to New York, her lovers and her marriage to a failed author and fellow bisexual, Reeves.
But this is less a neat chronology of a famous life, and more a series of sometimes unrelated illuminations around the edgy sensibility of a writer and an outcast.
Valentine’s dialogue is quick with wit and sharply observed character, although, oddly, the unsettled relationship between Carson and her husband is better realised than that between Carson and her major female love.
Young Abigail Austin as Carson is handsomely tomboyish and has an impressive stillness and truth as an actor.
Around her swirl characters whom director Alex Galeazzi works to make larger than life, and most of the cast successfully accomplish this heightened theatricality.
This is nicely framed by footlights and an artful stage-within-a-stage from designer Anthony Babicci. Only occasionally do the actors fail to live up to his theatrical set.
But with high production standards, this is one of the most artistically polished and consistent productions I’ve seen at the New.
The theatre should be applauded for staging what is surprisingly the first full production of this Australian play -“ it’s had numerous readings here and in America, won an award and it’s a decade since Valentine penned it.
The production is dedicated to the memory of Brian Hoad, the very exacting theatre critic for The Bulletin, who died recently. He’d love it: this is colourful and engaging theatre with thoughtful queer content.
Singing The Lonely Heart is at the New Theatre, Newtown, until 5 August.