There is a dark heart to American playwright Samantha Cooper’s world premiere work, Dawn, being staged at The Owl and Cat Theatre.
It starts out with Laura’s parents wanting to have a family dinner with her, but things quickly turn sour … and it is soon clear why. Laura has told her mother, Jo, that her father, Ian, had forced himself upon her on her 18th birthday. Now the ramifications of that and other sexual encounters between father and daughter are being felt. Ian not only took advantage of the college student, but ended up impregnating her. He can be extremely terse and is a master manipulator, but now may be the time for Laura to get a little of her own back.
With mum on board, Laura tries to take matters into her own hands by striking her father with a golf club and handcuffing him to her single bed. At first neither daughter nor mother are sure whether or not they have killed him, but in spite of each of them taking a few more liberal swings, Ian –battered and bruised – keeps returning to consciousness. What Laura wants is for Ian to be a normal father, to help her with assignments and be there for her when she needs him. Mother Jo seems strangely ambivalent to the goings on. While supportive of her daughter, she still loves her husband. She appears to be in denial about the magnitude of what has gone down. It becomes a question of whether or not mother and/or daughter will leave the family home, which is – to state the obvious – far from the safe environment that it should be.
I thought Roxana Paun Trifan was particularly noteworthy as the mother, a role to which she brought credibility and integrity. Damian Valeta plays her husband and Lucy Orr is their psychologically scarred daughter.
It is hard not to gain the impression that this is a family rotten to the core and while you sit there watching Dawn you are thinking no good can come of this. It all shakes out over 36 hours, represented by 20 scenes in the hour-long play without interval. The stage is bare save for a pristine white bed and a few props.
The subject matter makes it a production that will only appeal to selective tastes, as one comes to the realisation that Laura’s efforts to change the status quo will come to naught. While the artistic merit of this circularity wasn’t lost on me, I was hoping for a few more revelations and a greater show of the impact of the father’s actions.
Dawn, directed by Jaime Dorner is playing at The Owl and Cat Theatre, 34 Swan Street, Richmond until 26th August.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television