Melbourne's Malthouse Theater once again tackles edgy material in "Criminology," a stridently expressive display of artful effects, flashily transgressive (mis-)behavior, muddled social comment, minimal plot and even less characterization. One-act by Lally Katz and Tom Wright was inspired by the real-life 1997 case of a middle-class, Canberra, Australia, law student who plotted (with the full knowledge of some of her friends) the ritual-style killing of her boyfriend.

Melbourne’s Malthouse Theater once again tackles edgy material in “Criminology,” a stridently expressive display of artful effects, flashily transgressive (mis-)behavior, muddled social comment, minimal plot and even less characterization. One-act by Lally Katz and Tom Wright was inspired by the real-life 1997 case of a middle-class, Canberra, Australia, law student who plotted (with the full knowledge of some of her friends) the ritual-style killing of her boyfriend.

Co-dramatists Katz and Wright present their affectless anti-heroine Una (the talented and attractive Bojana Novakovic) with virtually no backstory, instead placing her in a present tense whirlpool of narcissistic self-gratification and surrealistic fantasies.

Interacting (sort of) with the protagonist’s polymorphously perverse persona are a series of exaggerated yet oddly uninflected types. These range from promiscuously hedonistic neighbors (saucy blonde Samantha Tolj and spunky, up-for-anything Simon Maiden) to tellingly mute lover (swarthy Hazem Shammas), and on to distinctly up-tight, lesbian gal-pal (spookily endearing Jing-Xuan Chan). There’s also an array of masked, backward-walking “celebrity corpses” and menacing clusters of disturbing, dead-eyed zombies.

The putative narrative’s rather thin spread is enacted across designer Anna Tregloan’s vast stage space of student-share lounge areas, an upper realm of a dozen-or-so video screens, and over to one side, a bedroom set-up significantly framed by an imprisoning cage.

What transpires around these props and personae is sometimes soapily banal, sometimes pretty scary (those eyeless living-dead types are especially unsettling). It’s also hardly ever clearly explicated, but almost always full-on with sonic and lighting overdrive.

Much of what auds take in here is, in fact, an almost sadistically contrived assault on the senses, bombarding spectators with dense noise-scaping, insistent strobe-flashes and dialogue atonally delivered in eerie reverb.

Indeed, director Rosemary Myers and her tech team whip up stacks of impressive atmosphere which ultimately serves not to show off, but rather show up the sham of a scenario as cold and heartless as its unengaging and finally still mystifying criminal subject.

Criminology

Merlyn Theater, Cub Malthouse; 354 seats; $A37 ($31) top

Production

MELBOURNE A Malthouse Theater and Arena Theater Company presentation of a play in one act by Lally Katz and Tom Wright. Directed and devised by Rosemary Myers.

Creative

Sets and costumes, Anna Tregloan; lighting, Paul Jackson; video design, Chris More; music direction, Jethro Woodward; movement consultant, Luke George; production stage manager, Rebecca Moore. Opened Aug. 3, 2007. Reviewed Aug. 10. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN

Cast

Sonya, Mother Teresa - Gemma Cavoli Mei Tan - Jing-Xuan Chan Tony, Tommy Lee Jones - Simon Maiden Una - Bojana Novakovic Alastair, Michael Hutchence - Luke Ryan The Boyfriend - Hazem Shammas Fiona, Princess Diana - Samantha Tolj
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