Nextstage Theatre presents Desperate HuttWives by Louise Proudfoot and directed by Geraldine Brophy
Reviewed by Margaret Austin, 14 Dec 2017
Desperate Huttwives – a new New Zealand comedy penned by Louise Proudfoot, directed by Geraldine Brophy and performed by Nextstage Theatre – is on for three nights only at the Hannah Playhouse.
The stage represents an indoor/outdoor setting (designed by Ross Joblin). There’s an antiquated barbecue in one corner and a heap of high heeled shoes in another – all hints of things to come.
Whatever your views and experiences of Hutt folk and their behaviour, you’ll find plenty to delight and amuse in this play. And plenty to resonate with.
We are presented with seven characters – all Upper Huttites – with the exception of Roxie (Liz Kirkman) who’s from Tawa.
“Nothing’s personal in a cul-de-sac,” declares Lisa (Tess Jamieson Karaha), the central character. Indeed, there is much washing of dirty laundry in public, and in particular, the sex lives or lack of them of all the characters get pretty full treatment.
Though whether the desperation of the title has to do with sex or something else this writer is left unsure. The play seems really about the somewhat clichéd divide between men and women – men are more interested in their new barbecue than in their wives; women find more satisfaction in adding to their shoe collections than in really empathising with their husbands.
There’s not so much a plot as a series of scenes with the same characters, and the action centres round – yes, you’ve guessed it – a barbecue. The main interest springs from what’s troubling each, and what the outcome is. But they have the Hutt in common, and that’s a bond.
The actors – also including Tom Trevella, Hannah McKenzie Doornebosch, Jerome Chandrahasen, Sabrina Martin and Alex Grieg – bring huge energy to the play. This tends to result in a lack of light and shade in the dialogue. Lines don’t need to be shouted to carry emphasis.
Despite the lack of eventfulness, there is a denouement – utterly surprising, moving, and hilarious!
This is probably not a play for the faint-hearted. But see Desperate Huttwives and find out how two Hutt men hug, what was in Shane’s letter of apology, how many minutes Chrissy needs to carve up a pig, and what happened to the Number 1 shoe store…
Full of great Kiwi humour, Desperate Huttwives also has substance.
Television soap operas have long lent themselves to satirical take-offs and the ever-popular Desperate Housewives is no exception.
In this instance, Louise Proudfoot has put together a racy and witty reincarnation of the beautiful, but bitchy housewives and set them in Upper Hutt.
Central to the group is Lisa (Tess Jamieson Karaha), who doesn’t work, but instead spends her husband’s hard-earned money. He is Leo (Tom Trevella), a car mechanic, and together they are having a very Kiwi BBQ for the other neighbours.
They include Chrissie (Hannah McKenzie Doornebosch), who is a beautician, and her husband Caleb (Jerome Chandrahasen), along with Sharon (Sabrina Martin) and her husband Shane (Alex Grieg), a plumber. There is also interloper Roxie (Liz Kirkman), from Tawa.
As with the TV show, everything appears beautiful and seemingly perfect on the surface, yet it soon becomes apparent that tensions are running high amongst the group, with accusations of who is doing what to who and with whom, not helped by Lisa’s dreams that she thinks are reality.
When, during the second-half, Leo returns from a two-week road trip around NZ finding himself, he decides he can solve all their problems which he does successfully.
Full of great Kiwi humour, with lots of innuendo which never becomes tasteless, it also has substance, especially in the second-half, with many telling moments about the psyche of NZ couples.
And while the first-half cracks along at a real pace, almost too much so on one strident level, particularly from the women, the second-half is much more subdued and subtle, and the production becomes the better for it.
But for all this to work so well it needs a strong cast of actors who have the where-with-all to deliver fast-paced dialogue with panache and excellent timing, which in this production they certainly have.
Under Geraldine Brophy’s direction and on a simple, but functional set designed by Ross Joblin, the cast perform with great confidence, bringing out all the nuances perfectly and never over doing the humour to create a very entertaining piece of homegrown theatre.
Reviewed by John Smythe, 30 Nov 2017
General rules-of-thumb for broad comedy include: cliché bad, universal truth good; stereotype bad, archetype good; laughing at others bad, having a laugh at ourselves good. As for the minefields known as sexual and scatological humour, gross and gratuitous ‘gags’ tend to get groans while the sudden exposure of secret home truths can produce shrieks of shocked-yet-delighted laughter.
Fortunately ex-greater Wellington playwright Louise Proudfoot’s Desperate Huttwives – directed by Geraldine Brophy and produced by Nextstage Theatre, both residents of the Hutt Valley – tends to tick the ‘good’ boxes, not least because Brophy has assembled an exemplary cast of seven skilled actors who inhabit their roles with comedic truth and integrity, and interact splendidly.
The Upper Hutt cul-de-sac where three couples live, get together for barbecues and deal with their insular, self-involved, ‘first world’ problems could be anywhere in middle class suburbia. Much as many would like to say we’ve moved on from this way of life, it’s fair to say ‘housewife syndrome’ and ‘suburban neuroses’ have not disappeared just because we’ve labelled them. We’ve all met these people. Sure they have access to the wider world through smartphones and iPads, but for these women the information super highway leads to the latest mega sale or binge-watching on Netflix.
Tess Jamieson Karaha’s stressed, snappish and increasingly paranoid Lisa is married to self-employed auto mechanic Leo (Tom Trevella) who is addicted to TV sport and suffers bbq-envy – until he has a revelation about his lifestyle and values. Meanwhile Lisa’s lack of a vocation, apart from making awesome salads, and the late mention of an 18 year-old son, who has presumably left the nest, suggest her domestic isolation is what foments the Days of Our Lives-flavoured paranoid dreams and fantasies that cause the behaviours that drive the plot.
Beauty therapist Chrissie (Hannah McKenzie Doornebosch) is pregnant and has to contend with a husband, Caleb (Jerome Chandrahasen), who expects her to give up her shop to become a stay-at-home mum, and with everyone blaming her stress over that on her hormones. Caleb is especially antagonistic towards the No 1 Shoe Store that attracts the women like moths to a flame.
Sharon (Sabrina Martin) and plumber Shane (Alex Grieg) have a number of children who are conveniently left off stage and out of the conversations but I assume their care is Sharon’s fulltime job. Her preoccupation is the hiatus in their sex life caused by an itch Shane is suffering, which we in the audience know about long before she does.
The ‘threat’ from outside this sextet’s cosy bubble is single Roxie (Liz Kirkman) from Tawa whose untrimmed hirsuteness (among other things) horrifies the other women. While she executes her ‘femme fatale’ role impeccably, I can’t help feeling a more self-sufficient professional woman might have been a more interesting counterpoint. (That said, I don’t recall her occupation or how she comes to be part of the group.)
When it comes to verbal humour, the metaphoric innuendo around what the tradesmen might do for the women is exceeded only by the plethora of ball jokes. While the absence of parenting issues as a topic of concern seems odd in this context, Proudfoot’s text is well wrought within its chosen parameters, Brophy ensures the action is focused and dynamically paced, and the actors sell their characters, relationships and the plot with a compelling conviction that delivers well-timed comedy.
Ross Joblin’s simple set, lit by Lee Patrick, effectively sketches in key elements of suburbia: weatherboards, a screen door, garden furniture, translucent corrugated panels, the barbecue, a trellis feature, a wrought iron gate. As well as more than one back yard it accommodates cameo moments in each couple’s bedroom and Lisa’s fevered imaginings.
While three intertwined plotlines form the narrative spine, it is Lisa’s ‘journey’ – well-grounded in reality despite its flights of fantasy – that adds substance to the comedy. The way Desperate Huttwivesresolves reveals its long game to be a low-key critique on the preoccupations and value systems that have driven the action throughout; a nudge towards a wider and perhaps more rewarding perspective.
Given the Hutt Old Boys Marist Rugby Clubrooms could be the ideal setting for the target audience demographic (flat floor seating notwithstanding), it will be interesting to see how its mid-December transfer to Wellington’s purpose-built Hannah Playhouse will fare. Will the ‘city slickers’ also recognise themselves, see themselves as escapees from that fate, pine for a life more connected with their neighbours, or bask in sophisticated smugness? Whichever, it could offer the ideal festive-season outing for social groups.
About the Show
Set in Upper Hutt, this brand new comedy written by local playwright, Louise Proudfoot throws us through a ranch slider and into a dizzying romp of neighborhood BBQs, extra marital affairs and unhealthy doses of Detonating Gonad-itis.
Seven Kiwi plumbers, hairdressers, mums, electricians, mechanics and beauty therapists, juggle beer and bubbly with pottles of mussels, and plates of brie and crackers, as they confuse their fantasy lives with reality and ponder the up side of a K Mart in Petone…
About the Characters
Come join Lisa and Leo, Sharon and Shane, Chrissie and Caleb, and the single Roxie as they tear each other’s lives apart and try to reconstruct them, with nothing but soap operas and their base instincts to guide them.
Don’t miss this hilarious “over the fence” peek at suburban life in the Valley. Desperate HuttWives is a must for your Christmas function or a fun night out with your mates.