THE FRINGE / Riotous summer camp: Nick Curtis on a hyper-camp Brother Truckers, a long-winded Trios and a cerebral Oedipus Flabbergasted

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The Independent Culture
IT'S RARE for a director to have all the best lines, but in Georg Osterman's dragged-up film noir spoof, Brother Truckers, at the Drill Hall, London, Everett Quinton has all the put-downs Joan Crawford never said. Not only does he direct this riotous summer camp with a wicked eye for detail, he also gets to play Lyla Balskin, the apotheosis of every bitch goddess or melodrama queen to tarnish the silver screen.

The story is slender. Everything is hunky-dory for the Fabrinski brothers, Lech and Flem. Their garbage firm is booming, Flem is married and Lech has forgotten his wild fling with Lyla and settled down with gal-next-door Billie (Osterman, about as feminine as a moose in a frock). Then a crash wrecks their truck and Flem's arm, and Lech must seek work with Harry Balskin, a white-trash drunk - Lyla's husband.

Soon Lyla is trying to wash her hands of Harry, get her hands on Lech and get her claws into Billie. When Lech spurns her, Lyla snaps: 'I feel dirty, cheap and used.' Then, with a vulpine grin, she asks Billie: 'How do you normally deal with that?'

Brother Truckers buzzes with these B-movie brickbats, and plot and character are subjugated to gags. But New York's Ridiculous Theatrical Company makes a schlocky virtue of its shortcomings, turning what might be leaden into gold lame. Exquisitely painted backdrops thud unapologetically into place.

And, glam as he is, Quinton is not the only attraction. Osterman's mix of Shirley Temple and Steve Reeves is spot on, and the dementedly optimistic spin Flem's wife Bina (Lisa Herbold) puts on his progressive maiming is blackly comic.

The novelist Edmund White's Trios at Riverside Studios, London, is a different sort of drag altogether. It is three intercut stories of three love triangles. It is performed by three actors. And it is three hours long. The quantity rather than the quality of the writing is at fault. White's message - love hurts - is communicated as much in the pauses as in the dialogue of these pumped-up miniatures, but while his musings are astute, they're never profound. Story one is of a Victorian woman who leaves her cold fish of a husband to be with an amorous young suitor who proves inconstant; it's terribly, terribly clipped, civilised and dull.

Story two is about a Noo Yawk soap actress who discovers that three-way marriage with her abrasive student lover and her creatively-blocked painter husband ends up excluding her; it plays like any other wry vignette on philandering 'artists' with more self-regard than talent.

Story three features a young manservant besotted with a deaf simpleton maid whose husband beats her (women don't come off well here, you notice); it's like Upstairs Downstairs going straight for the tear-ducts.

Exposed as they are on the vast, barren stage, the actors do well; Kelly Hunter in particular turns out a technically brilliant, if unsettlingly manipulative performance as the deaf girl. But these characters don't live. They merely exist to perform the romantic arabesques White writes for them at such unnecessary length. And speaking of unnecessary length . . .

One advantage Trios has over film-maker Ken McMullen's windy Oedipus Flabbergasted at the Cochrane, London, is that it's comprehensible. Allusive and cerebral to the point of total obscurity, McMullen's piece is also the latest casualty of the conundrum of multi-media performance: an appealing idea, it seldom works.

McMullen takes Sophocles' Oedipus trilogy and stirs in ships' imagery, Freud, unreliable sung and spoken narrative and a miming Admiral O'Edie at the head of a Greco-Irish crew. Footage from his films and two talking heads are cast on to 'sails'.

Rather than provide any genuine inter-media tension, this film footage remains a gimmicky backdrop. But then, there's precious little drama on stage either. McMullen seems to be trying to tie Oedipus to his own political mast as some dramatic ur-text for the regressive patterns of humanity. But I'm suspicious of socialist art that is intellectually inaccessible. One quote resounded: 'They don't want to know how clever you are.'

'Brother Truckers' to 7 Aug (071-637 8270); 'Trios' (081-748 3354) and 'Oedipus Flabbergasted' (071-242 7040) to 31 Aug

(Photograph omitted)

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