A man of many hats, Gabriel Bergmoser is one busy and prolific individual. The Melbourne – based artist is an author, playwright, performer, podcaster, and critic.
His published books are ‘Windmills’ and ‘Boone Shepard’, with two further novels, ‘Symbiosis’ and ‘Phoenix’, both in the final stages of editing.
Bergmoser has an impressive body of plays to his credit. These include ‘Below Babylon’ and its sequel, ‘Beyond Babylon’, ’Chris Hawkins’, ’Glenrowan’, ‘A Good German’, ‘Hometown’, ‘Life Without Me’, ‘The Lucas Conundrum’, ‘One Year Ago’, ‘Regression’, ‘Reunion’, ‘The Last Supper’, and ‘We Can Work It Out’.
He is also the 2015 winner of the prestigious Sir Peter Ustinov Award for Scriptwriting, an Emmy given out by the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation.
Until recently, Bergmoser was a respected critic for both Australian Stage Online and Theatre People. Earlier this year, however, he dramatically walked away from both gigs. Bergmoser even wrote a lengthy and impassioned blog entry on his own website about the experience, detailing how reviewing had impacted him as both a writer and a person.
Still, to reinforce that old Mark Twain chestnut, “Write what you know”, out of the ashes comes his latest play.
Serious theatre criticism is a challenging dice roll at the best of times; it is a sport never to be taken lightly. Critics and artists do a strange, synergetic dance. Especially, when a reviewer’s influence determines if punters will part with their hard – earned cash or not. But without art, there would be no reviewers.
The fascinating documentary, “Show Business: The Road to Broadway”, featured a roundtable discussion with a handful of New York’s most powerful critics. In the lead up to the 2004 Tony Awards, together, they opined which current offerings constituted great, good or middling work. Ironically, ‘Wicked’, the show which garnered mixed critical feedback at best, has become one of the biggest money – making juggernauts of all time.
Then last year, the Broadway producers of ‘Something Rotten’ struck back.
The musical received excellent reviews, with one glaring exception from Ben Brantley at The New York Times. (It should be noted this print institution is the strongest player big productions want in their corner.)
In response, the company’s cheeky marketing team did something left of field, yet completely in line with the show’s bawdy comedy and ridiculous sentiment. They pulled the following non – committal quote from Brantley’s review: “A new show that opened Wednesday night at the St. James Theatre”, and plastered it on every promotional poster and advertisement imaginable.
The reaction on social media became so extraordinary, in some circles it was called the Tweet that broke the internet.
With a compact running time of fifty – five minutes, ‘The Critic’ and its straightforward narrative manages to pack a massive punch.
Jamie is a driven young woman, who has suddenly landed the job of a lifetime. She is the brand new addition to a popular and powerful Melbourne newspaper’s theatre reviewing team. However, no sooner is she off to the races, that a friend calls upon her for a massive favour. Emma is a rookie playwright, who pleads with Jamie to critique her newest work for the paper.
What should be a no – brainer causes Jamie a massive headache. Unfortunately, Emma’s piece is a stinker. Suddenly forced to chose between journalistic credibility or saving her buddy’s pride, will Jamie tell the truth and destroy Emma’s big chance or risk her own integrity instead?
What makes this journey’s hook so fascinating, is that in some capacity or other, we have all been there. Telling lies (and being caught out for them), say volumes more about the fibber than the person they were intended to protect.
Without out giving away any more of the play’s key points, Bergmoser a natural aptitude for witty, quick and incisive dialogue. He writes in the manic spirit of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (responsible for ‘The Front Page’ which is currently in revival on The Great White Way), Anita Loos, Neil Simon, Charles Busch, and our own David Williamson.
Once Bergmoser’s smart plot trajectory is established, his screwball antics kicks into high gear. From here, ‘The Critic’s’ grip is never once relinquished. Further, this exceptional flair for wordplay drives both the play’s story and solid characterization to their natural conclusion.
Further, the beauty of Bergmoser’s piece is that the playwright takes the required checklist critics need to (or should abide by), and turns it into a gripping tale. Not only that, he allows us to see Jamie agonize over her decision, as well as taking viewers through the very process of writing itself.
Perhaps the biggest twist is Bergmoser’s choice for women only to play parts that have traditionally been filled by men. This gender – bending slam dunk gives the show fresh perspective on an old theme: putting career ahead of friendship or vice versa.
Under Ashley Tardy’s smooth direction, she brings out the best in her acting quartet, allowing them many opportunities to shine.
As Jamie, Louise Cocks plays her tug o’ war dilemma for all its worth. Communicating degrees of hapless frustration with moments of real anger, she nevertheless keeps the comic momentum in check.
Alicia Beckhurst is Emma, friend and possible rival to Jamie. Beckhurst delights in being the show’s antagonist and master manipulator as well.
Angelique Malcolm is Susan, the over the top and tough as nails editor with a few dark secrets of her own. Her harried interactions with Jamie, spilling some home truths about the profession along the way, reinforce this show’s potential classic status.
Rose Flanagan is a treat as Jamie’s wise – cracking bestie, Ellie. Flanagan also imbues her role as devil’s advocate with laconic charm, never once holding back.
Clean lighting cues, the simple set and defined costuming, are as they should be. Stage management is also kept unobtrusive, so as not to detract from the overall look and feel. Whether these choices are budgetary constraints or otherwise, are to the show’s advantage. It is a play accessible to virtually any theatre troupe, and could even be adapted to radio or expanded for television broadcast.
As a reviewer for ‘The Critic’, this was very much an experience about art imitating life. My own sensibilities as a writer were put in check recently, when I was faced with critiquing a show whose point of view really challenged me. I had not expected to jump back into the shark tank this soon.
As a last minute replacement when another reviewer got sick, I agreed to do this write up before knowing exactly what I was being asked to do. Watching ‘The Critic’ unfold was rather surreal and at times, I felt like I was having a gun pressed to my head. I need not have worried.
‘The Critic’ is the fifth show staged by the Bitten By Productions Team, playing for a strictly – limited season at Club Voltaire. It’s a knockout!