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In The Solitude of Cotton Fields - Review

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by Aridhi Anderson (subscribe)
Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at
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An abstract, thought-provoking and poetic play
Two men meet in a deserted place in a chance encounter after dark. But is it really a chance encounter? One man believes it is, as he was walking with purpose from one definite place to another and simply happened to run into the other man on his way. But the other man believes there's more to it - that the passerby made eye contact from afar and veered off his course to meet him, to unconsciously seek fulfilment of an unspoken desire, a desire that this other man could fulfil for him. Thus a conversation begins between the Dealer (the local man) and the Client (the passerby) about the nature of their encounter, and how they might come to an agreement that makes sense of it.

Image credit: Richard Murphet.
Image credit: Richard Murphet.

In The Solitude of Cotton Fields is a French play by Bernard-Marie Koltes, translated into English by Lenora Champagne and directed by Richard Murphet. It is a heavy work, rich with dialogue, poetry, and philosophical musings. It is over an hour of laboured expressions of perspective from two men whose experiences of a shared moment in time find no point of intersection other than the fact that they are both present in this place together, and that neither is able or inclined to leave without resolution. It is an intriguing work: abstract but not absurd, unrealistic but not unrelatable. It is a work that explores deep questions of desire, motivation, perception, and pragmatic action, and compels a reflective response.

The stage is bare except for a milk crate and a small seat. The lighting is subtle, ever-changing, and consistently dim - which although effective, is also hard work for the viewer. Tom Dent is creepy, opaque, and mysteriously deep as the Dealer: not someone you'd want to encounter in a dark, unfamiliar place on your own (although if you were going to encounter a stranger, perhaps you'd rather it be him than someone else). His character, clearly intelligent, seems somewhat flat and manipulative in the first half, but in the second half begins to show signs of nuance and emotional depth that elicits greater interest, and even sympathy. Rob Meldrum is outstanding in his portrayal of the Client, purposeful, self-respecting, and articulate throughout, and yet mysterious in his own way, especially in his hesitation to find a way out of this encounter. The interplay between these two characters feels like a long, tense game of chess.

In The Solitude of Cotton Fields is a play that opens up a multitude of questions and then does not answer a single one. What you get out of it will depend almost entirely on the interpretive lens you bring to it, and the level of attention you're willing to pay. If you're looking for a play that is uncomplicated in presentation but powerfully performed, which exercises your mind and scrutinizes your thoughts, check this one out at La Mama Courthouse before April 28.
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Why? An abstract, thought-provoking and poetic play
When: 17-28 April 2019
Phone: 03 9347 6948
Where: La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond St, Carlton
Cost: $20-$30
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