Architects’ designs and their views on those of their contemporaries are entirely influenced by their personal and political backgrounds and prejudices, according to Oren Safdie’s intriguing comedy Private Jokes, Public Places.
The 80 minute play focuses on keen young Korean female architecture student Margaret (MJ Kang, who played the role previously in New York) presenting her design of a public swimming pool to her male colleagues; American course tutor William (Michael Gilroy), and two established architects, one reserved, methodical, practical and British (Robert East), the other a passionate, flamboyant European (Colin Starkey).
What emerges during their discussion on the merits (or otherwise) of the design reveals each character’s stance on nature, self-expression, and what the “public” needs.
The dialogue is fast-paced and witty, and the actors do an excellent job of inhabiting their (intentionally, I think) highly stereotypical characters and fighting their corner under the direction of Leon Rubin.
It is also interesting how Safdie – who himself attended the Graduate School of Architecture at Columbia University before becoming a writer – portrays the architects as desperate to categorise people by their designs, thus establishing their personalities. “Are you a Christian?” asks the European architect of the student rather bluntly.
Dermot Hayes’ effectively simple set evokes a bright, stark white room (well-lit by Rory McAlister) with architectural drawings and models neatly placed on the perimeters. The audience members are the classmates of Margaret, which is a nice idea in terms of making us more involved, but in reality it feels clumsy and awkward because it is only made reference to sporadically, as though thrown in as an afterthought.
Although amusing, the comedy perhaps places too much emphasis on the private jokes - as a non-architect, there were times I felt slightly lost. However, it is making more of a philosophical than an architectural point, and there are a few laugh out loud lines.
- Caroline Ansdell