The asylum within

Wednesday, October 16, 1996

WASP with The Zig-Zag Woman and Patter for the Floating Lady
Written by Steve Martin
Directed by Neil Armfield
Company B, Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney, until November 17
Reviewed by Jennifer Thompson

Steve Martin's new splash would set family man John Howard's teeth on edge in its cynical, funny and extremely weird portrayal of the work-ethic-imbued nuclear family. The main play is called WASP for its focus on the White Anglo Saxon Protestant nuclear family — a handy description of the "ethnic ruling elite of the United States", according to the Economist.

Each character — Dad (Barry Otto), Mom (Kerry Walker), Son (Tyler Coppin) and Sis (Rebecca Massey) — is completely mad, driven insane by the inanity and internal contradictions of their social environment.

On these circumstances are layered a set of family relationships that reverse any notion that "family" might be a relief from the external world. Martin's nuclear family bizarrely magnifies the lunacy outside. Mom and Dad get advice from "voices" — except Dad's aren't talking to him — Sis has a dream of giving "nearly virgin" birth to baby Jesus, who she'll then raise and marry, and Son has had visits from an alien since age four, who reassures him he'll fall in love with a woman who'll then choose to spend the remainder of her life with someone else.

Sis's life plan gives some indication of the regard in which upstanding Christianity is held in Martin's world and is followed by a Christmas morning revision of the 10 commandments that begins innocuously enough but degenerates into clichés and founders on adultery, forcing abandonment at number six. If you come from a "dysfunctional" family or like a big dig at commodity-Christianity, WASP — very black, very cynical and very funny — is the one for you.

Zig-Zag Woman and Patter for the Floating Lady, which play before WASP, cover the same cynicism about love and relationships, adding a special theatrical touch with some very clever magical trickery — levitation, a variation on sawing a woman in three, and cafe food appearing out of nowhere. Highly enjoyable. n