Friday, February 21, 2014

Theatre: Second Hands

Little y Theatre
Written and directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler
Developed and performed by Austin Castiglione, Nick Maclaine, Holly Garvey, Georgia King and Renee Newman-Storen
For Fringe World
PICA until Feb 22

I suggested to some people who had just seen Jeffrey Jay Fowler’s ghoulish suburban comedy, Second Hands, that he could be the next David Williamson.
They were horrified that I would consign such an adventurous young writer to the remainder bin of Australian theatre, trotting out middlebrow current affairs dramas to pad out the subscription brochures of the state theatre companies, but they rather missed the point.
Which is that Fowler has the rare gift of writing genuinely funny, genuinely sharp dinner-table dialogue, and the ability to ratchet it up and down the emotional scale from banter to desperation at will. Only time will tell how Fowler chooses to use his ability; what’s indisputable is that he’s got it, and in spades.

Fowler’s not ready to subside into remunerative respectability just yet, though.
In Second Hands, society values hands above all else. It’s got the medical technology to click them on and off, and it’s prepared to pay for them.
Sri Lankan and Indian hands. Thai and Vietnamese hands. Even, if you can’t afford better, dicey Russian hands. The delicate, illicit hands of a nine year old are much more desirable than standard, ethically harvested sixteen-year-old hands, whose former owners, at least, are provided with proper hooks to replace their missing appendages.
It’s a well-conceived dystopia that allows Fowler to explore greed, vanity, the bounds of friendship and the possibility of love, and he does it with insight and clear vision.
Renee Newman-Storen and Austin Castiglione are fabulous as a couple caught in the trap of desire and debt when a cheap new pair of Sri Lankans cost upwards of six grand, and the talented and prolific Nick Maclaine and Georgia King make the most of the best roles they’ve had for some time as a couple who’ve got the cash but not the courage to break free from this vicious cycle. When the four of them are together, the dialogue fairly crackles with delicious venom. Some scenes between Maclaine and Holly Garvey, as his younger lover, lack some of the punch and sparkle of the others, but that’s an odious comparison.
The pace of the production suffers a little through scene changes, even though they are necessary and well managed. One day, if he chooses, Fowler’s work will have those expensive revolving sets that Williamson, Joanna Murray-Smith and their ilk get to overcome that little problem. 

An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian 21.2.14           

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