Friday, 29 August 2014

Concussion - Ellandar Productions (29 August 2014)

Take a bow Ross Mueller. Yes, before we discuss the work of director Sarah McKellar and her excellent cast we have to talk about the writing. This is nothing less than what I call a “writer’s play” with sly references and nods to the writing process itself and, oh my, Mueller is having a grand old time with it. Word play galore, fractured timeline narrative, intersecting character storylines, a faux mystery, characters breaking the fourth wall and even suggesting scenes, and the mocking of clich├ęs associated with this style of story as the characters are all very self-aware about the tale they’re in. 

It’s deliciously clever, subversive and funny. Even the somewhat overwrought shouting match at the end I took to be a poke at the expectations usually contained within this type of tale. As a writer myself this was absolutely in my wheelhouse and I loved the cheekiness and audacity of the script.

When you give such great writing to the talented cast McKellar has assembled, well then, we’re off to the races. Those actors are Richard Mellick as the cop Caesar who has been bashed on his way to court with seemingly no memory of events leading up to that moment; Nichola Renton as his girlfriend Julia who is also an emergency room Doctor and dealing with her needy ex-husband James Jnr Jnr played by Ian Bolgia. 

Then there’s Paul Grabovac as James Jnr Jnr’s brother, James Jnr (I told you Mueller was having fun!) who is melancholic and very anti-accordions. Russya Connor plays Katerina who is Caesar’s legal advisor, the source of James Jnr’s moping, and (stay with me here) is having sex with Caesar’s 15 year old son, Sergio (Danen Engelenberg) who blogs about their sexual exploits having been ostracised from Facebook by his schoolmates.

Initially I thought we were going to see two mysteries solved over the course of the play – the reason for the bashing; and the resolution of the relationship drama between Caesar and Julia. To be honest, the first is really a device to give a major reason for these characters to collide in surprising and unusual ways and it’s that exploration that is fascinating not the mystery itself which remained fairly oblique.

Renton who is excellent as the caring Julia gives an inkling of what’s to come with an early monologue directed at the audience where she indicates that this will not be another tragedy and that their landscape is comedy. There is also repeated mention of the cerebral meeting the physical and that it is actions that define us not words - amusing when so many fine words are being deployed here. She grounds the play with a well measured, sympathetic turn as the woman supportive of her partner and striving to free herself from her ex.

Bolgia gives a wonderfully boisterous performance as a man who tries to win his wife back but uses words as a weapon even beseeching others to guess what he is thinking by giving them the word count and number of syllables. Grabovac is suitably morose by comparison as he loses his job to his brother; is censored on air, not for his ideas but because he used foul language; and who struggles with the loss of his girlfriend.

Mellick gets to inhabit two completely different sides of Caesar – the bewildered bashing victim who muses about Bob Dylan, Osama bin Laden and various other pop culture figures to amusing effect; and the last good cop in town who refuses to lie in his statement to the court about a celebrated war veteran who was murdered at “2am, in the morning, at night”. Writer’s gags everywhere.

Connor is all feisty and sexy as the lawyer and has several raunchy moments that are well staged with Engelenberg as the horny teenager who doesn’t understand the ramifications of his actions and the trouble his blog will cause. He has a standout moment delivering an hilarious monologue that is as explicit as it is downright funny.

McKellar keeps the pace crackling along and I was having a fine time with this. The playing with timelines means that the major revelations when they are come are well crafted with the ending of the play a nice surprise yet totally in sync with what has been set up. Impressive writing that is directed and acted with impressive skill.

Concussion is on at The Blue Room Theatre with only one more show, 7pm Saturday 30 August. Written by Ross Mueller and directed by Sarah McKellar, it stars Richard Mellick, Nichola Renton, Ian Bolgia, Paul Grabovac, Russya Connor and Danen Engelenberg.

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