‘Joey: The Mechanical Boy’ reviewed by Gordon the Optomby Gordon The Optom November 19, 2014
‘Joey: The Mechanical Boy’ is another triumph by the award-winning co-writers, Leah Mercer and Margi Brown Ash. In 2012, their play ‘Eve’ was the winner of the Blue Room Members’ Choice Award.
This powerful Premiere is a Nest Ensemble and Blue Room presentation, in conjunction with Pride Festival. It can be seen nightly at 7.00, in The Blue Room Main Theatre, 53 James Street, Northbridge. The 60-minute shows are for one week only, running until Saturday 22nd November. There is a 4.00 pm matinee performance on Saturday 22nd November.
The stage is divided into three parts, a home dining room, an office, and a small ward in a private research hospital. The office is a mountain of psychology books. The ward has a Heath-Robinson, scruffy arrangement of pipes and wires, all held together with packing tape. This wonderful design was conceived by WAAPA trained Tessa Darcey, and built by Phil Miolin.
In the late 1940s, the trophy bride (Margi Brown Ash) of a serviceman has a baby boy, Joey. Being a trophy bride, she is preoccupied with her appearance and so has little interest in the child – a ‘refrigerator’ mother. Very soon, she sees that the baby boy is not responding normally, and when she consults the local paediatrician, Dr Bruno Bettelheim (also Margi Brown Ash) who is a world-renowned child psychologist and personal friend of Sigmund Freud, he diagnoses that the child has autism. Doing what she thinks is the right thing for her boy; she hands over Joey to the doctor to be cured.
Now, Joey is 9½ years old (Philip Miolin) and spending all of his day in his pyjamas. Having been brought up with machines and instruments all of his life, even when he pees a light tells him when he has finished, Joey wants to become a machine. His mother wants him back home.
Now that Joey is in Dr Bettelheim’s institution, will he ever be cured and get out to a normal life?
Knowing that this is based on a true story – published in Scientific American in 1959 – watching this powerful, dramatic presentation left the audience gasping at the cruelty that was being allowed by the medical boards and health authorities only 50 years ago.
Singer Brenda Lee was known as ‘little miss dynamite’ but even her exuberance pales against the highly dynamic, diminutive (1.50 cms tall) Margi. Looking like Einstein on drugs, Margi has magnificent stage presence, filling every square inch of the stage as she brings to life the mad, obsessed scientist. With clever direction from Leah Mercer, we found ourselves being drawn into the misguided logic of the admired quack.
I have known Phil Miolin for more than a decade, but behind the special mask designed by Per Brahe, his display of nerves and quivering uncontrollably, he was unrecognisable.
Karen Cook, the lighting designer, has put a great deal of thought into the illumination. The home is warm and soft lighting. The child’s ward is cold blue lighting, with several scenes lit by small spotlights on Joey’s helmet. Sound designer, Joe Lui, took us from soft music to the full 100 decibels, in stereo, of a plane taking off. Joe always gives that little extra. The completely mad experience being handled by stage manager, Jessica Harlond-Kenny.
The unpredictability of the situations and the fast pace of the delivery – much of the hour was an impeccable monologue from Margi – kept the audience enthralled. There are plays that are simply disturbing but admirable, but this was something very special. Masterly performances, a tight script, and a wonderful production.
A very short season, so try to catch a performance or regret missing the show.