Sturdy ensemble acting and striking staging effects are the chief attractions in the Down Under English-language premiere of “Eldorado,” German playwright Marius von Mayenburg’s metaphorically murky family meller. Director Benedict Andrews’ program notes relate how the piece was penned “in the shadow of the Coalition of the Willing’s invasion of Iraq.” However, this offering from a key representative of the new generation of so-called “blood and sperm” dramatists opts for an everywhere-and-nowhere setting, which manifests itself (most arrestingly) behind a stage-filling giant glass oblong box featuring 10 evenly divided front-panels.
Like creatures trapped and struggling in an allegorically suggestive vacuum-sealed tank, six lead characters, drawn from an evidently upper-middle, colonizing class, eke out their existential despair on the carcass of a textually unnamed but definitely “other” conquered culture.
Squabbles around this newly acquired foreign real estate are ostensibly what drive the action in a sometimes frustratingly unstructured series of exchanges and encounters among a piranha-like pack of shrill, psycho-neurotic types.
There’s uber-realtor Aschenbrenner (Robert Menzies), a scary, modern-day Mephistopheles who strikes a quasi-Faustian deal with new recruit Anton (Greg Stone), who’s married to angst-ridden redhead Thekla (Alison Whyte). She tries to teach piano to youthful Manuela (Bojana Novakavic) as well as deal with her drunken, grasping mother, Greta (Gillian Jones), and the latter’s physically potent toy-boy Oskar (Hamish Michael).
Any attempt at a coherent plot synopsis is almost instantly — and perhaps deliberately — tested by the work’s persistent tendency toward a sort of willfully poetic abstraction, often via exhaustive monologues.
The climax, as such, glitteringly unfolds beneath 20 minutes of falling burnished flakes, perhaps evoking a morally bleak future-world, literally “dripping with gold” purloined from eponymous illusory terrains. Meaningfully pretty? Pretty meaningless? Anyone’s call…
Amidst all the strenuously conceptual moaning and mayhem, Andrews elicits three focused, standout perfs. Whyte valiantly tackles the emotively taxing moods of a drained and delusional, once-idealistic woman; Stone is a perfect exasperated Everyman; and Jones excels as the venal, sometimes drunkenly doddering, ever-malignant matriarch.
But whether “Eldorado” ultimately stands as a shining example of confronting contemporary theater, or disintegrates under the ponderous weight of post-modern Euro-dross will be one for auds to finally decide. Whatever the verdict, this is definitely not run-of-the-mill fare.