In these lean times for the arts, theatre companies need the occasional sure hit — a production with a small, top-credentialled cast and irresistible script that is guaranteed to charm its way direct to the hearts of a packed audience.

Pamela Rabe in Separation
‘Separation’, the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Tom (‘Duet For One’) Kempinski’s witty love story starring Bruce Myles and Pamela Rabe, is such a play. Boy (middle-aged, balding, overweight, agoraphobic playwright) meets (partially paralysed, neurologically diseased) girl; and Shazam! —instant chemistry. But not quite. For most of the play, you see, their relationship is conducted on the telephone and, moreover, across an ocean. He hunches by the phone in his London house; she crutches to the honker in her New York apartment.
“They struggle with loneliness and find that with a telephone they can get company, reassurance, and find someone they have a lot in common,” says Pamela Rabe. “A telephone actually releases things. You can cut through all the normal obstacles of getting to know someone. They are not near enough to strike back.”
But this is no mere treacle comedy-love story hinged on disability; all that is merely a catalyst, Rabe says. The play comes from the heart, but the heart of playwright Joe Green includes “an irrepressible desire to destroy anything that makes him happy” and life with someone prone to “severe anxiety attacks” has its ups and downs.
Rabe says setting up a “healthy, positive image” of the handicapped is one aspect of the play, but that it goes deeper than such cliches. “I think it is silly to think of these two freaks going into the sunset with each other and not bothering us. That is not what is going on. They are very likeable people but also ugly people in the sense that they take a lot of wrong steps and do inconsiderate things in the name of love. They are real. They are like us,” she says.
“Kempinski manages to get down to some pretty profound, sometimes harrowing, deep and emotional truths about people relating to each other, and sometimes hurting each other. But it is a witty, funny play where you really enjoy and barrack for these people to get together.”

‘Separation’, directed by Paul Thompson, is playing at the MTC’s Russell Street Theatre, Monday 6.30 pm, Tuesday to Friday 8 pm, Saturday 5 pm and 8.30 pm.
Bookings: 654 4000.

Jason Romney – The Age / 07 October 1988