REVIEW – “Speaking in Tongues” and “Ruben Guthrie”

Australian Theatre Company's Double Feature: “Speaking in Tongues” and “Ruben Guthrie”

Australian Theatre Company’s Double Feature: “Speaking in Tongues” and “Ruben Guthrie”

I had the pleasure of attending back-to-back opening night performances of the latest from the Australian Theatre Company, “Speaking in Tongues” and “Ruben Guthrie.” I was not previously aware of this company, but am happy to see that they plan on continuing to entertain us Aussie-style through various outlets.

By Carol Edger Germain

These two plays made an impressive impact on me and the friends I shared both evenings with, and we are looking forward to their future endeavors. A lot of talent was packed into these two productions, I expect more of the same quality in the future. We were treated to Australian libations before the play and Australian savory pastries and meat pies after. Also especially appreciated was the glossary page in the program, entitled “What the #%$* Did They Just Say?” It was fun getting familiar with Australian ad slogans and slang as we looked up the meanings of the phrases repeated in the plays.

Speaking in Tongues (Photo - Suzanne Strong).

Speaking in Tongues (Photo – Suzanne Strong).

Speaking in Tongues

They had my attention in the press release as soon as they mentioned that playwright Andrew Bovell’s “Speaking in Tongues” is a “noir psychological thriller,” and as the multiple intertwining stories unfolded, I was intrigued and focused, as I didn’t want to miss a clue or detail of any of the story lines. Four actors successfully transition among nine characters, and the stories move forward, backward and sideways. The characters experience nearly every human emotion, with an underlying restlessness and questioning that drives them to betray their mates, explore their options, and hopefully find depth and meaning in their successes, failures, commitments, and clandestine wanderings and adventures. There is humor (one situation in particular still makes me laugh, although it was a situation where “things are not as they seem” and could result in severe consequences for one character, and, in fact, may have done so, we will never know, as that particular story line was not concluded in the play); there is also reflection, questioning, angst and moral dilemma (lots of melodrama but not overly done, the writing lets the audience “get it” fairly quickly without unnecessary words). Not everyone is clear on what is the “right thing” to do, but they wing it and do their best…usually. It was easy to have empathy for all of the characters and really care about how their lives flowed along as they experienced the pivotal moments that drove them to their actions and decisions. The structure of the play, with the characters weaving in and out of the various stories, the nonlinear time frame, and the need to put one situation on hold as another unfolds, while also sometimes following two stories where the actors in one scene are simultaneously speaking the same lines as the actors in a scene on the other side of the stage but with a different meaning, could have gotten so complicated that it became impossible to follow any thread to its end knot, but the playwright was amazingly precise and clever in conducting the stories, and I was left with only one unanswered question, something about a shoe at the beach…………. It was obvious that the director (Jeneffa Soldatic) and the four actors (Jamie Irvine, Tina Kobas, Matt Passmore, and Kym Wilson) were in sync with the playwright’s intentions regarding presentation, as they successfully translated his words to the stage accompanied by movement, staccato unison delivery, gazing forward, back and sideways as the story snaked along, and delivering the stories to us for our consideration, commiseration, and most of all, enjoyment. The set designer, lighting designer, and sound designer were also right on point and added to the visual package.

Ruben Guthrie (Photos - Suzanne Strong).

Ruben Guthrie (Photos – Suzanne Strong).

Ruben Guthrie

The night after “Speaking in Tongues,” I saw “Ruben Guthrie,” written by Brendan Cowell after a year of self-imposed sobriety as he faced his concerns about his over-imbibing and decided to see how it would impact his life by not partaking. It is advertised as “an affecting and darkly comic look at alcoholism and the impact of Australia’s drinking culture,” and that it was! My experience in the US has been that although we create many reasons to drink and it’s part of our culture as well, with specialty cocktails associated with every type of event, venue, meal, and occasion (I love watching “Bar Rescue” to see what concoctions they come up with to create signature drinks for the failing bars as part of the package to resurrect the bar’s business), nevertheless we acknowledge that it’s a problem for some people, and usually support from friends and family is readily available in addition to AA meetings. Apparently in Australia it’s considered by some as perhaps unpatriotic to suggest you can’t hang with it, and no one takes your decision seriously, continues to offer you drinks, and chuckles when you admit you are “sitting in a circle.” Ruben Guthrie (Nathan Sapsford) is living large, managing to be a successful adman, going full bore toward his career goals, while going with the flow socially as well, binge drinking and dealing with all the consequences, sometimes funny, sometimes life changing, sometimes seemingly invisible to him. I’ve always cringed at the description of a person as “charismatic,” as I knew instantly I would not relate to them and be bewildered why others gave them so much air time, as it is synonymous with “phony and manipulative” to me. That description has been used on Ruben, but I found him human, lovable, and really not trying to manipulate others (except as required by his business) because of that characteristic. At times I wanted to support him, at times I wanted to slap him, but I was totally involved as he made his journey, and also open to the points of view (and support or lack thereof) of the other people in his life: his model girlfriend Zoya (Sasha Yegorova), his mother Susan (Vivienne Powell), the scraggly Ray (Shane Connor), his hopeful gay friend Damian (Nick Hardcastle), the always-got-a-cooler-full Peter (David Ross Paterson), and his drinking lady of the moment Virginia (Olivia Simone), but ultimately it was a solo struggle, and he faces that it is neverending. As with “Speaking in Tongues,” I found the direction (Peter Blackburn), set, lighting, and sound on cue for making the play entertaining and thought provoking. And I again enjoyed the cocktails and pastries!

Speaking In Tongues
• Until Jul 02, 2016
Mon 6-27 8pm
Thu 6-30 8pm
Sat 7-2 8pm
Ruben Guthrie
• Until Jul 02, 2016
Tue 6-28 8pm
Fri 7-1 8pm
Sat 7-2 4pm
Matrix Theatre
7657 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046
(West of Stanley Ave., between Fairfax and La Brea. Ample Street Parking)

TICKET PRICES:
• One play: $34.99
• Two plays (“Double Feature”): $50
(Discount tickets for some dates available at goldstar.com).
• Buy tickets here.

Carol Edger Germain

Carol Edger Germain

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