Our independent theatre scene continues apace. Apologies to those whose shows I have not had time to attend, or have attended but have not yet reviewed. Can’t do everything. Here are two productions I have seen and written about: they’re both worth checking out.
Everynight Everynight, by Ray Mooney, Frank Theatre Company, Gasworks Arts Park, Until May 27.
I’m not sure why, or what it says about us, but realistic Australian drama based on criminality and masculine violence tends to draw out our best male acting.
My pick this year – Josh McConville’s terrifying portrayal of a murderer in Gordon Graham’s The Boys, at Sydney’s Griffin Theatre – was a tour de force we can only hope comes to Melbourne. Bravura performances also distinguish this revival of Ray Mooney’s Everynight Everynight.
Mooney’s grim interrogation of institutionalised brutality in Pentridge Prison’s H Division is based loosely on the early life of infamous hit-man Christopher Dale Flannery. It’s gruelling and repulsive viewing: a gang of prison wardens or ‘screws’ (Adrian Mulraney, Paul Ireland, Tony Rickards) attempts to break new inmates through humiliation. Appalling scenes of rape, bashing, and ritual psychological and verbal abuse accumulate.
Prisoners are locked in to a cycle of degrading treatment, partly by their own code of silence, which demands no one snitches to the authorities, not even on screws. Driven to desperate measures, the Flannery-figure (Damian Hill) “resigns from the human race” and leads a prison revolt. The code of silence is broken; a Royal Commission ensues. The play leaves us with the grotesque disparity between the official account and the reality of life in jail.
It’s a very strong ensemble performance with little to fault. Highlights include Hill’s perfectly observed descent from cunning boy to uncontrollable, violent monster, and Steve Bastoni’s superficially attractive but profoundly menacing career crim.
Matthew Adey’s ghostly lighting and the echo chamber of Robert Jordan’s sound design create a desolating and impersonal atmosphere. Stuart Grant’s direction ensures first-rate performances, but needs to address the technical limitations of the space: some action is pitched too low for comfortable sightlines, for instance.
It remains a must-see for true crime fans – an intense, compelling production that forces us to confront a world most people ignore.
All That I Will Ever Be, By Allan Ball, Fly-on-the-Wall Theatre, Chapel Off Chapel, Until May 20.
Allan Ball is better known for his screenplays – American Beauty, Six Feet Under, True Blood – but he began his career as a playwright. Fly-on-the-Wall has tracked down All That I Will Ever Be, a play stippled by Ball’s swift wit, and a shot in the arm to anyone who thinks – not without reason – that America can’t portray gay men without resorting to sentimentality or stereotype.
Omar (Francisco Lopez) is an outsider: Arab-American, comfortably bisexual, a hustler. He’s many things to many people, but lingers over one client – Dwight (Christian Heath), a young, rich boy scarred by loss. But do Dwight’s privileged eyes see Omar for who he really is, and will their romance survive Omar’s rootlessness and endless lies, the very things that allow him to work as prostitute?
Ball’s provocative humour and sharp, complex characterisation are matched by an empathic imagination and a willingness to embrace diversity. How refreshing it is to find a play that reflects the cultural melting-pot of contemporary America without tokenism or well-intentioned artifice. How novel to witness gay relationships as fraught, hard-won things, driven as much by emotion as sex.
A large, talented cast, stylish production values, and Robert Chuter’s swift and assured direction make this an unusually accomplished offering. Lopez’s Omar possesses a rehearsed masculine aura, with flashes of vulnerability shining through cracks in his armour of affectlessness and resentment; Heath’s turn as a damaged rich kid running from privilege and pain proves an intricately tuned counterpoint.
The sole female actor, Sarah Roberts, has two brilliant cameos (as a Valley Girl fag-hag, and Omar’s deluded and ambitious girlfriend) that ring true to the last gesture, with Phil Roberts’ ageing gay man a sensitive and serene presence.
All I Will Ever Be blends outrageous humour and intimate drama. Under all the laughs and raunch and tortured romance though, it’s a penetrating satire of identity politics and unconscious bias, and a thoughtful search for emotional truth in an age slathered with oh-so-hip irony.