A Man Walks Into A Bar – Optimism and faith when joking at the local. (Theatre review)

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A Man Walks Into A Bar

Off the Avenue Productions at Blood Moon Theatre

21 April – 7 May You can grab your tickets here.

Photo credits: Angie Carmen Photography

“A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein

What is a bar but the ultimate combination of hope for the future and fear of the present? The bar, when it’s done right, is a civic space where the community – whichever community you join – get together to drink themselves out of the present and engage with a joyful hope for a future. Going to a bar is a hopelessly optimistic act. At the least one expects to put off life’s challenges for a wee while. At its core it’s an endless faith in the power of alcohol and society to provide us with a good time, or chance to get laid. One never enters a bar as a patron without a something of this hope tickling at our sides. In A Man Walks Into A Bar, this hope for the future and fear of the present are combined with alacrity as a woman and a man meet over drinks in a public space relating to the audience a tale that may or may not be their own history played out, or their hopes for the future played out. They meet, either by accident or design, and they start to relate to one another through a series of jokes that slowly reveal to the audience a history either real or imagined.

In this way, writer David Geary exposes, not just the couples history, but the history in the present that is always already existent in the public bar. Despite our promise to ourselves that we are free agents and anything can happen, the optimism the public bar evokes can be seen as a demand of the individual on the possibilities of the venue. The Woman (Nina Marsh) and the Man (Chris Yaacoubian) speak to each other through jokes, sometimes related in full, sometimes completed by the other, sometimes chopped up with saucy and frisky verve. As the snappy dialogue continues the playfulness between the couples reveals cracks in the happy façade. Yet even the apparent demise of this relationship contains hope. David Geary retains the optimism of the bar, the playful and joyful nature of the jokes, offering the audience a chance to see all happenings in the bar as infused with hope. Even in the face of a negative reality, the bar will offer you some ephemeral, optimistic promise.

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The greatest joy in A Man Walks Into A Bar however, is in the writing and the performances. Snappy dialogue that relies heavily on timing and presence could have been a bit of a trick in the hands of two lesser performers, but Nina Marsh and Chris Yaacoubain do remarkably well under the competent direction of Andrew Beban. Both performances are crisp, light and engaging despite representing different personalities. For character traits to emerge from such a fast pace and compact play shows great depth, and it is this development that engages our interest in the couple while we subliminally assimilate the philosophical points of David Geary. The play rests comfortably on the small stage within the intimate space of The Blood Moon Theatre using the size of the room to further capture the audience with the karaoke style microphone hopping and movement into the front rows. Co-Designers Emily Sigglekow and Isabella Sigglekow and costume designer Joanne Atkin give the stage the feel of a bar with an added touch of kitsch for fun. Adding to the pleasure of such a compact piece of theatre is Sam Newton’s performance who offers a smooth thirty minutes before the show and then includes little musical interludes throughout A Man Walks Into A Bar. These are performed by Nina Marsh who has a delightful voice, and written by Andrew Beban with some collaborators. The music provides a softening to the potentially jagged edges of the pacey dialogue and they are a welcome relief during the breathlessness of the show. Sam Newton is an easy listen, so be sure to grab his thirty minutes before the play starts and round out your night proper attending this charming and quirky show.

A Man Walks Into a Bar is strongly performed, well directed and beautifully written. It has a lot to say about how we relate to bars (a bit of a theme at the moment in Sydney) and uses a charming linguistic style to express a surprising narrative depth that is a great joy to experience.

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