Imagine you’ve been challenged to get your life together in six weeks. With no work experience, a poor secondary school record, and more money than you can picture, the clear solution is to open an art gallery in Paddington. In a new satire, Joanna Weinberg explores the collision of a celebrity socialite with the visual art world.
Minky (Jodine Holli Wolman) is used to a life of leisure, being ferried around to drink and party in front of waiting paparazzi and turning to her hotelier father for bailouts when necessary. But this time her father is drawing a line in the sand: six weeks to get her act together or she’s being cut off. A spark of desperation propels her to purchase a gallery space and begin gathering artists for an unbelievable opening that will finally get her the familial love and attention she craves.
This is an all too familiar character. Thin, white, blonde, and filthy, filthy rich. She’s written as vapid and vain, a clueless airhead who manages to land on her feet due to mountains of unexamined privilege. Minky’s two points of sympathy are a media scandal featuring the accidental death of a rival heiress’s dog and absent parents, neither of which garner the necessary substance to flesh out the rich girl trope.
But this is satire and there is a clear air of mocking surrounding Minky’s out-of-touch characterisation. However, with the introduction of Minky’s commissioned artists, the satire becomes muddled and it’s no longer clear who is the butt of the joke. The selection of interviewees are sincere, unusual, and written with a similarly shallow brush as Minky, focusing on tropes and cheap shots to keep the derisive laughter rolling from billionaire to artist. Perhaps the script is pointing at pretension more generally and the many ways people purport themselves as superior. In which case, it’s still unclear where a joke about an insecure artist’s unstable mental health lands.
Weinberg’s direction is snappy and sharp under the lighting design from Roderick van Gelder which allowed for clever use of scene transition time to build the character/audience relationship. Wolman is lively as Minky with a vibrant enthusiasm. Her swaps between characters and conversations is smooth and cleanly executed with attention paid to physicality and vocal work. As the only actor on stage, Wolman appears comfortable and, with her direct to audience address, she maintains interest and engagement in the build-up to her dramatic finale.
This finale, in fact, comes as quite a surprise considering the lack of textual hints or indications within the character arc that Minky would come to this conclusion. As the pinnacle of her gallery’s opening, Minky decides to auction off the rights to her death, a suicide planned by injecting toxic chemicals and stopping her heart in an extreme statement in performance art. As a final form of rebellion against her neglectful parents and an unexpected existential crisis, the decision to kill off Minky is the ultimate example of the shallow and senseless attitude of this production.
Written from a fascinated perspective outside of the billionaire, gallerist, and artist worlds Minky Opens a Gallery is a bit of well-executed fun that satirises the “elite” and “exclusive” walks of society, even if unsubstantially.
Minky Opens a Gallery is running at Chippen St Theatre from September 3rd – 7th as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival