ENSEMBLE THEATRE’S ‘DREAM HOME’

Well congratulations David Williamson on not only writing but also directing a play where you managed to exemplify how dated your work can be, which is quite the feat when this play is less than a year old. With ‘Dream Home’ you’ve played the stereotypical race, age and gender cards and hit each of them with a sledgehammer so blunt that I wasn’t sure which of them was more offensive. 

Yes I do. 

It was the blatant sexism in the portrayal, behavior and treatment of each of the female characters in the play that had me shaking my head in disbelief. How is it in 2015, we still write plays where the only way to see women is as prostitutes or bitches and in some cases, both? At least with both you’ve made them two-dimensional. If only you could find the elusive third so that we could possibly enjoy well-rounded female characters on the stage.

‘Dream Home’ has four female characters and three men. There’s our protagonist Paul (Guy Edmonds, who did his best to make the role work as every character interacts directly with him). Paul is lusted after by all the women in the play and just to add a sympathetic tone to his plight, he is also painted as the victim to his wife Dana’s (Haiha Le) insistence that he give up his dreams as a composer and become a responsible breadwinner, urged on by the imminent arrival of their first child and a new mortgage.  Women are a wonderful fantasy but the reality of them is dream-crushing more than dream home…

Whilst the scenario itself could carry the play to a certain extent, it was constant barrage of sexually frustrated women knocking down his door like an episode of Benny Hill that had me scratching my head in bewilderment. There’s widow Wilma (Katrina Foster), Paul’s kleptomaniac middle-aged neighbour who not only dishes out gossip and blackmail aplenty but also offers sexual services to Paul for a price, as she has to desperate men in the past. Williamson paints Wilma as a ruthless wanton, gratifying her own salacious desires and earning a buck at the same time. She is as unlikeable as she could be. We laugh at her (or we would if the play were funny) and pity her loneliness that we fully recognize as her own making because single middle-aged women are despicable. 

Then there’s Colette (Libby Munro), wife to Sam (Justin Stewart Cotta) and ex-girlfriend to Paul. Colette, dissatisfied with Sam’s possessiveness, tries to seduce Paul once again. After all, a woman’s best escape from a bad relationship is to find another man, another protector. Heaven forbid we should desire self-sufficiency because we’ll all end up like Wilma if we do.  Women only have the power of their attractiveness and their bodies to get what they want. Let’s get that message out there to the next generation asap. Thankfully Colette’s problems are solved by an affair with someone else and with a newly vulnerable Sam (thanks to his bromance with Paul), Colette now has a man who can make her happy and she doesn’t need to stray anymore. Gee, the messages keep getting better. Women stray if they’re not fulfilled: only men truly understand other men and all of them are at the mercy of those women- the needy, nagging nymphomaniacs.  

Finally, there’s Cynthia (Olivia Pigeot), ageing Qantas flight attendant, wife to Henry (Alan Flower). Cynthia humiliates Henry within the first moments of their arrival on stage (driven by sexual frustration) and very quickly sets out to seduce Paul (she quite literally rips off his belt and undoes his pants while hapless Paul stands in shock and awe at the alacrity of her actions). It’s fair to say that had the roles been reversed, we might say attempted rape and if not for the arrival of Dana and Henry, we are led to believe that he might not have been able to fight her off. Cynthia later announces her affair with a married man because she is not sexually satisfied with Henry, but we can solve everyone’s problems by calling in a well-endowed stranger to service her while Henry watches them, much to his delight. 

I’d spend more time on the racial stereotyping of Sam but frankly, it is almost redemptive compared to how the women are portrayed. At least Sam and Paul find common understanding after the initial violence and bullying. When Paul finally stands up to Sam, we applaud his heroism but when Paul’s wife Dana tries to do it, she is a bitch.  Sam and Paul’s friendship was probably the only thing watchable in the whole play. 

I’m not even going to address the acting or the production itself. It’s irrelevant given the material it had to bring to life. I know not everyone will interpret the play as I just did. It’s a harsh reading, granted. But broken down to its core, ‘Dream Home’ is a sad indictment of how we see women in Australian society by Australia’s most prolific playwright. You can call it comedy but it’s as dated as Dick Emery. 

If the Ensemble want to entice a younger audience, this is not the way forward. I know you have to pay the bills. Is this how you want to do it?

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