In 1947 Homer Coyller and his brother Langley were found deceased in their New York brownstone apartment buried under massive piles of hoarded junk, including pianos, the chassis of an old Model T Ford, books, newspapers, human organs in jars, rusted bicycles, chandeliers, and tonnes of other antiques and collectibles. Langley was found ensared in a booby trap designed to ward off nosy intruders; the brothers had gained notoriety due to their eccentric and reclusive lifestyle, and were rumoured to be literally sitting on a pile of cash. Homer was found a week earlier, squished up in an alcove, dead from starvation.
Richard Greenberg’s play, The Dazzle, dramatises the circumstances leading up to their gruesome discovery; like The Crown on Netflix it is mostly speculative drama that titulars a glittery object to ironically describe all that is tarnished and decaying underneath.
While the macabre subject matter isn’t exactly laugh-out-loud, this debut by Corvus Arts Theatre at Meraki Arts Bar is a match made in heaven. Both are fairly new to the Sydney art scene with a throwback to old school sophistication.
Milly (Meg Hyeronimus) is the spitting image of Vivien Leigh, her green eyes flashing wildly at the object of her obsession, the concert-pianist Langley (Alec Ebert) who, like Ashley in Gone with the Wind, drives her wild with his passive, reclusive nature, the exact opposite of her fiery temperament. Greenberg endows him with a beautiful mind, identifable in someone like David Helfgott (the inspiration for Shine) or Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man.
Langley is dragged along by his overbearing elder brother Homer (Steve Corner) to engage with his responsibilities, including showing up to paid concert gigs to pay the bills. Both brothers crave a meaningful connection to something, but when that love is lost, they take on hoarding as a way to protect themselves from further hurt and ridicule, and to fill the deep void of emptiness that eventually devours them both.
Jane Angharad as director creates a discordant rhythm for the play that is initially hard to listen to; but when the play settles the full force of their maddening sisyphean existence is tragically realised and understood.
Like Miss Havisham from Great Expectations who becomes a disheveled hoarder after being jilted on her wedding day, all the characters really want is to be loved for who they are, not pushed into boxes or labeled by their condition. Unfortunately, their dysfunctional ways of coping means they end up becoming curiosities in themselves and not vulnerable people worthy of respect and dignity. The Dazzle gives them a voice to reclaim some dignity of the human spirit.
The Dazzle is playing at Meraki Arts Bar until 3 December 2022. For tickets and showtimes go to https://meraki.sydney/whats-on/
Images: Clare Hawley