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Dr D. Bruno Starrs
on Dec. 02, 2012 :
Pete Malicki is a living legend in the rarefied world of Australian short theatre. He is the tirelessly reliable ‘Head Incubator’ of “Crash Test Drama”, a monthly opportunity for budding playwrights, directors and actors to get together, quickly turkey-baste ideas, block moves and within 2 or 3 hours of meeting, stage their short plays (i.e. < 10 minutes) under lights and atop the well-trod boards of a tiny inner-city Sydney theatre, even though they’re still being performed script in hand. He is also the respected Director of “Short+Sweet”, the world’s biggest short play festival, and many of his pieces have deservedly been recognized and awarded in both of these thespian ‘showdowns’.
If a reviewer such as I might be permitted the luxury of generalizing about a writer’s oeuvre (I certainly would NOT welcome someone doing so with my own [yet-to-peak] body of work!), I’d tentatively suggest - reductionalistically - that Malicki’s specialty is the moaning monologue. A person, alone, talks to the audience/reader, who may also be greeted by other voices in the head of the soloist’s performance. Malicki has nailed this genre, theatrically, time after time.
But has he succeeded in crossing over from short playwrighting to short story writing? Well, to me his Anthology of Short Fiction is great reading, full of original and stimulating situations, but if I were to criticize at all, I would venture the opinion that Malicki somewhat neglects - or perhaps deliberately ignores - the opportunities fiction writing provides for the writer of non-speech. Novelists are frequently more concerned with unspoken concepts, metaphors, narrative arc, design and thought, whereas playwrights generally prioritize a dialogue-based discourse between characters with stage directions enacted accordingly. Many short plays succeed, it sometimes seems, on the twist in the tail/tale. Might not this be a shortcoming evidenced by the writing of his which Malicki deems fit for reading not performing?
My well-considered answer is: Nope! The fact is, Malicki’s writing, while inevitably influenced by his theatrical activity and success, is SO unexpected, even hardened critics such as myself cannot stop from marvelling at what Malicki writes and then next creates. His shorts are simply as close to perfect, one wonders if he has developed a computerized algorithm he simply mouse-clicks before publishing. His work consistently surprises and if you don’t like this one, a few minutes later Malicki will throw you, the reader cum audience, a new curve ball. His second piece in this Anthology, “V.D.” is a perfect example. From the collection’s first short story about a guy witnessing murder as performance art, Malicki suddenly takes us into the mind of a middle-aged, desperately lonely woman. She buys herself a cat each unhappy Valentine’s Day, but today, when anonymous flowers are delivered, she puts her foot down and says: “I call the animal shelter and tell them to put down the kitten they’d kept aside for me.”
Subsequent stories in this Anthology cement Malicki as the Master of the Twist in the Tail. Through the rigors of theatre writing (and performing), Malicki has evolved his writing for the stage to the extent an Anthology such as this is not unlike a night of ten or so incredibly diverse writers, directors and actors performing afront the limelight. Malicki converts the Proscenium Arch into the E-book succinctly and completely, whether he writes of an old man’s smell that wraps around the throat “like a noose” to a ‘Dexter’ meeting his own Dexter in his fourth piece “Darkest Moment” to beer that “rages like a bonsai maelstrom” in “God, the Agnostic”, monsieur Malicki writes like a gymnast atop the shoulders of a high-wire trapeze artist: aware of his height and his skill but always – in the end – pulling us back into gravity’s real world. Experience him on your E-reader or see his actors mouthing his prose at the theatre, either way, Pete Malicki’s monologues work (mostly unhappy) wonders.
(reviewed within a week of purchase)