By Marlo Sullivan


To celebrate the opening of The Melbourne Actors Lab at the Alex Theatre in St Kilda at the start of August, the play Fifty Words, written by Michael Weller is being performed. 


Directed by Peter Kalos, Fifty Words is a play revolving around a married couple living in New York who are alone for the first night in years. The play exposes the frustrations of married life for both the husband, Adam, played by Daniel Schepisi, and his wife Jan, played by Katharine Innes, whom he spends much of the play trying to seduce into bed. 


Set in their home, primarily in the kitchen and living areas of the house, the play is a raw and much more honest portrayal of family life than shown in many romantic tales that envision a Disney happily ever after. 


Unfortunately, there was a clear lack of female influence in the writing, evident in the way that while we learnt a lot about how the male character Adam saw his wife, we didn’t hear very much about how Jan saw him. As a result, the play appears to view the relationship through a male lens, focusing on how Adam views Jan’s actions, emotions (or lack thereof) and concerns. 


There was great use of the set, and in particular the lighting, with changing colours and light levels showing different times of night and visually highlighting the varying moods of the characters. In contrast, the characters were self indulgent and therefore myself and my companion did not feel engaged or particularly immersed in the world of the play, and could not empathise with the characters. The play did not have a clear message nor did it say anything particularly profound. Without a clear resolution at the conclusion of the play, we were somewhat left hanging. Yet I overheard from another audience member that Fifty Words is the first of a set of three plays, so perhaps the following plays will connect to this one and resolve the conclusion. 


Fifty Words seems to be aimed at a very specific audience, as it appeared to resonate with Gen X members of the audience. The specificity of the plays that the Melbourne Actor’s Lab perform means that when you are interested in the subject matter, their plays are fantastic. With some great actors at the Lab, the great performances result in enjoyable local theatre. While I did not find this play so engaging, The Melbourne Actors Lab has performed some great plays including PVT Wars and Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story, so I would recommend keeping an eye out for their upcoming shows. 


Fifty Words is playing at the Alex Theatre St Kilda until August 3.

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