Alfred Buttigieg has come up in Dwar Menopawsi, Minorenni u Muturi High Speed (St James Cavalier) with a superficially light comedy that is funny but makes one reflect sadly on the state of the Maltese family. It is performed as a long single act in which the action moves swiftly from scene to scene.

Malcolm Galea’s direction keeps the play flowing easily, emphasising the characters’ foibles- Paul Xuereb

The main characters are a married couple, Henry (Pierre Staf­race) and Kate (Angele Galea) who have reached early middle age and are encountering the familiar mid-life crisis.

Henry works in a bank where his sharp tongue and possibly his less than brilliant performance have kept him at a cashier’s desk for the past 20 years and made him permanently disgruntled, while Kate, though much more satisfactorily employed as counsellor in a school, feels emotionally starved because of Henry’s indifference towards her.

Both now find themselves in situations that change the sullenness that has long characterised their relations with each other into a more openly hostile one.

For Henry the catalyst is his teenage son James (Jacob Piccinino)’s young girlfriend Fay (Tina Rizzo) to whom he is immediately attracted and who mischievously seduces him into having sex with her on one occasion, followed presumably by other occasions, though the plot does not clearly indicate this.

Foolishly thinking the girl is as crazy about him as he is about her, Henry resigns his job and does his best to imitate teenage behaviour, spending much money in the process and enraging Kate, who finds herself the sole income-earner for the family.

She is flattered by the courtship of a teenage pupil without realising the dangers of her behaviour, and it is when she breaks down emotionally in front of this pupil, Donald (Franco Rizzo) who kisses her passionately in the sight of her jealous son James that the dysfunctional marriage collapses.

Malcolm Galea’s direction keeps the play flowing easily, emphasising the characters’ foibles, and lingering over important bits of stage business as when Henry is impressing Fay with his expertise in judging wines.

He has also filled in the gaps between the various scenes by letting the audience see Kate putting in order the living room in which all the scenes are played, a device visually much more interesting than having men in black from backstage come in to do this job.

The parts are well cast, though Donald, a teenager, is played by Franco Rizzo, who is clearly at least 10 years too old for the part.

This, however, is justified by the fact that the actor cast for the part fell ill a few days before the first night and had to be hurriedly replaced. Rizzo, however, gives us a convincing picture of a young man obsessed with an older woman and quite shameless in his wooing of her.

Stafrace paints his Henry in bold tones, once or twice erring on the side of excess, but often handling his lines with the skill of an actor who knows the importance of good timing and the rightly judged pause.

Buttigieg certainly has not intended us to empathise with this character even if in his programme note he hopes the audience laughs rather more with Henry than at him.

Henry has been unhappy in his career, but the way he speaks to his wife and to his son makes it easy for us to understand how he must sometimes if not always get on the nerves of colleagues and superiors.

His language is often coarse, so it is not a surprise when we find that his son James’s language is even more lurid than his father’s and his attitude to women and sex are so outrageous.

We end up pitying Henry just a little because he is so human, but when at the end we see him still confident the teenage Fay must certainly come back to him, as he is sure she is mad about him, we cannot but feel a trifle contemptuous that he should have allowed himself to become so out of touch with reality.

Galea as Kate makes us see all the time how her pupil’s infatuation with her pushes up her morale. Her handling of Donald is always tactful, but she never puts him off completely, so the boy is ready to seize a suitable occasion such as Kate’s violent fit of anger caused by Henry’s giving up of his job and extravagant spending.

Piccinino is a brash and generally insensitive son, and he can be very ill-mannered with Fay, but in his great jealousy caused by his mother’s flirtation with Donald he is a typical son. His relationship with Fay is not built on any great love but is essentially physical, and he not infrequently makes it clear, whether in Fay’s presence or not, that he is attracted to most girls around him.

Fay’s aggressive sexual assault on Henry comes as a surprise after her polite behaviour towards both Henry and Kate, but the author probably means us to see that where sex is concerned she and James are birds of the same feather – omnivorous and amoral.

The final night of Dwar Menopawsi, Minorenni u Muturi High Speed will be staged tonight.

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