Tot Mom

The story of Casey Anthony, who has been dubbed ‘Tot Mom’ by the American media, is as complicated as it is emotionally charged.

Sydney Theatre CompanyWharf 1 Wednesday, 23 December, 2009  The story of Casey Anthony, who has been dubbed ‘Tot Mom’ by the American media, is as complicated as it is emotionally charged. The Sydney Theatre Company production of Tot Mom is clean, slick, simple and emotionally ambiguous. That is not to say it lacks energy or emotion, rather the audience is never pulled to one way of thinking or the other. Five minutes into the show I realise this is it’s greatest weakness and it’s biggest strength. Political theatre has traditionally been a didactic form of communication – sometimes overtly as in the case of Brecht’s Epic Theatre or covertly like Arthur Miller’s discussions of the average man against the system. However in the age of communication saturation we get our news and politics from one hundred different sources so have one hundred different opinions given to us and director Steven Soderbergh seems reluctant to add another opinion on this heap. He wants the audience to take whatever they want from the show and doesn’t feel the need to preach. This feeling of professional distance is facilitated by the use of multi media technology. Four screens hang above a small stage with chairs across the back. In front of this is a small square grassed area and its earth contradicts the many metres of cords and wires that join the screens and fill in the depth of back stage. The first impression is that you could be looking behind the scenes at a talk show. In some respects that is what is happening. Essie Davis plays the U.S. talk show host Nancy Grace. Her face appears on all four screens and the effect is stunning, as the dialogue begins with a strong clipped down south accent just as engaging. We are told via titles on the screen that the script is a verbatim account of the opinion surrounding the case but be prepared to leave the theatre without much knowledge of the facts of the case. This is a piece about opinion, and the medias growing ability and inclination to condemn rather than search for the truth. Where journalists in the past have died trying to discover the truth now it seems they are deciding what that is, but Nancy Grace started out as a lawyer and so does not seem to need to adhere to any code of honour that the profession of Journalists might need to hold true. This could be a comedy, and the incredulous laughter in the audience assures a successful one, if it weren’t so very real. Psychologists, the general public, lawyers and various experts interact from the stage with Nancy Grace and each is treated as if their opinions and theories are gospel truth IF (and here is the crux of the matter) they mirror that of Nancy Grace. Callers are cut off, lawyers chastised if their agenda is not the same and victims effusively comforted no matter the circumstance they have come from. Nowhere does anyone ask what the truth is. Being innocent until proven guilty is the democracy that people fight to spread the world with – but it appears it is not a reality in the land of the free. The performances are extraordinary in their strength with Essie Davis standing out because her role is so clear and Zoe Carides because hers are so varied. She is surely one of the most underrated performers in this country as each of her characters spoke volumes with little movement and often only short bursts of stage time. The play moves with lightning pace verbally but is still in every other way. Perhaps this is because the Director works in film and is a first time, albeit highly skilled, theatre director or because the ‘talk’ is the only thing that matters. But when one side of an argument screams loud and constant you wish the other side would step in and counteract for some relief (something Soderbergh doesn’t do) and the same  goes for stage movement – you wish to see someone ‘doing’ rather than talking. I left the theatre excited, without answers, with volumes of opinions and with an energy to research what really did happen and find my own truth. Brecht may possibly be rolling in his grave/. Bookings:
Until 7 February, 2010 

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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