Friday, Sept. 16, 2011

Off The Wall And On The Beach

A Casual Cocktail Party At The End of the World

By Russ Bickerstaff
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I just saw Off The Wall’s On The Beach last night. The adaptation of the 1957 Nevil Shute novel was at its best during a cocktail party that makes up roughly half of the show (or so I remember.) The setting is a clever one: A full-scale nuclear has come and gone, wiping out all life on earth, except those living far enough removed from it all in Australia. A group of people have a little get-together and try not to think about the fact that, by all educated estimates, they’ve only got a few more months to live. It’s kind of a comedy of manners with this dark cloud of impending doom covering everything.

 

It’s not executed perfectly, but the performances of Liz Mistele and Jeremy Welter as hosts of the party give the scene more than enough class to keep it fun. Also: Watching it with the knowledge that there this huge, impending environmental collapse just a generation or so down the line on this side of that stage makes the w hole thing feel deeply disturbing. 

 

Baby boomers will likely be familiar with the 1959 film adaptation of the book starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins Of course, this is NOT the Australian post-apocalyptic story that my generation is most familiar with, but there are some interesting, vague, little parallels between this and George Miller’s cinematic trilogy from the early to mid-‘80’s. The biggest thing here is talk of the end of the age of the automobile in a time of dwindling gas supplies. Part of the inspiration behind Martin’s films was violence in lines for Australian gas stations during the 1973 oil crisis. The feeling was that nations wouldn’t really look for alternative fuel sources until it was too late—so a post-apocalyptic world would be very brutal.

 

In On The Beach we have an emotional brutality of an entirely different kind that is strikingly vivid in certain moments. The issues of petroleum are further made reference to in the character of Julian Osborne—the Shute analog character played here by David Roper. He’s a nuclear physicist who worked on the bomb and now he’s racked with guilt. One of the self-destructive impulses that goes along with the guilt is that of driving very, very fast with what little gas is left. He buys a sports car and enters a very brutal race. The image of mild-mannered Roper in a sleek sports car racing alongside the post-apocalyptic punks from Mad Max couldn’t help but come to mind. It’s an interesting visual in a production filled with odd little bits like that.

 

Off The Wall’s production of On The Beach runs through September 25th. For ticket reservations, call 414-327-3552. A concise review of the show runs in the next Shepherd-Express. 

   

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