In 1948, James Agee began work on his autobiographical novel called A Death In the Family, which tells the story of losing his father in an accident as a boy and the profound effect it had on himself and his family as a result. Agee died before the novel was finished but it was edited and released posthumously, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1958.
The Ward Theatre Company in Footscray, are showing the play A Death In The Family, which is an original adaptation of James Agee’s novel.
The play is set up as a theatre-in-the-round format, where the audience is seated around the stage area, which gives the feeling that the audience member is a part of the production. As an audience member, I prefer to be an observer and feel relaxed. However, last night, I felt I couldn’t move an eyelash, in case I interrupted the performance. I imagine many punters would find this kind of audience experience quite confronting. Perhaps this is the point.
The play opens, with a rather wordy monologue by the Narrator/Rufus, played by Soren Jensen, and the story unravels at an excruciatingly slow pace.
One night, Jay (Rufus’s father) receives a phone call from his brother Ralph, telling him that their father has had another heart attack and he should get there to see him. Jay, played by Darren Mort, leaves his family, which consists of Rufus and his pregnant wife Mary, played by Lee McClenaghan, who I thought had the most believable accent of the whole cast.
Rufus’s great aunt Hannah, played by Petra Glieson, is introduced, when she takes Rufus shopping. Later that day, Mary receives a phone call from a man saying that there has been an auto accident involving Jay. Mary calls her brother Andrew, to tell him to drive to the accident scene and to drop Aunt Hannah off at her house for comfort.
Eventually Andrew, played by Andrew McPhedran arrives without Jay at the family home. Mary and Aunt Hannah are seated at the kitchen table, sipping on tea and patiently waiting for word. Andrew delivers the news that Jay has been killed. There is crying and glasses of whisky being poured and this is where I felt the play got a little awkward.
Aunt Hannah rises from her seat, telling Andrew and Mary to quieten down, as she can hear something. Mary and Hannah come to the conclusion that it is in fact Jay. Although death can bring humour with it, I don’t think this scene was meant to be funny. Yet it was; the actors looked awkward and I felt awkward watching them. Thankfully the scene is relieved when Andrew McPhedran’s character, makes fun of the women for thinking such a thing. T
he music by Helena Plazzer and Emma McKay is indeed wonderful and adds magic to this stage adaption of A Death In The Family.
I found one of the last scenes the most poignant of all. Rufus/Narrator is talking about how after our parents pass away, we are all trying to go home yet never make it. He then goes on to say that the only time we really return home again is when we have our own children.
As a woman, who has lost both her parents, this really touched a nerve with me and I felt Soren Jensen did such a great job with delivering it.
A Death In The Family runs Thursday – Saturday from April 25 -May 25. Get along to see it.