Italy, late World War II. Allied bombers approach a hilltop monastery sheltering refugees. A Māori soldier is billeted with a family near Naples. Another steals from camp to track down a pair of chickens and encounters an Italian deserter in a barn. They draw rifles. The chickens escape.
Strange Resting Places deserves a wider audience. It’s the best thing I’ve seen at the Fringe yet.
These are the seeds of Strange Resting Places, a brilliant production from New Zealand which spans everything from tragedy to farce. Based on the authors’ research about their own families — one Italian, the other Māori — and told episodically, the play is composed of segments united by its unlikely clash of cultures. Much of the comedy is based on misunderstandings, and Strange Resting Places’ trio performs its balancing act with languages and accents so adeptly it’s easy to miss their accomplishment. Barnie Duncan’s mastery of Italian and English is particularly impressive, as are his Italian, British, and American English accents, and his versatility extends to playing both sides of a conversation with considerable flair.
Co-writer Rob Mokoraka’s impressions of a chicken and a goat, meanwhile, are almost worth the price of admission in themselves. A good part of the pleasure of Strange Resting Places lies in the noises its actors simulate, from the buzzing of an airplane to Mokoraka’s animal clucking and bleating, Duncan’s pig-squeals and best of all, his bawling baby Jesus — part of a fantastic, unexpected, and totally brilliant scene in which a statue of Madonna comes to life to comfort her distressed son. Creative solutions to problems posed by the set are another delight. A mandolin and two guitars enliven whimsical scene transitions and double as the soldiers’ rifles, while a swinging ball of yarn replaces plane propellers. In the play’s climactic scene, baby powder is used in an ingenious and surprisingly powerful way.
The tone change which takes us from knock-knock jokes to those devastating final moments is achieved effortlessly — further proof of the group’s talent, though none is needed. Strange Resting Places deserves a wider audience. It’s the best thing I’ve seen at the Fringe yet.