Directed by Mark Kilmurry
78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli
Season: 19 January – 18 March
Having exited retirement, David Williamson, renowned Australian playwright, is currently writing a play a year to be staged as a part of the Ensemble Theatre season. Seemingly a lovely opportunity, as he takes an interesting concept to carry through the work, I am terribly disappointed by the prevailing sexist attitudes in the production and the implausibility that ensues. In spite of this, we see some quite good performances and solid direction by Artistic Director Mark Kilmurry resulting in satisfied audiences at the Ensemble.
Alice and Ryan meet on a bus ride one day. Alice is a physio who rehabilitates people who have had a stroke. Ryan evidently has Asperger's, and Alice doesn't notice. Ryan is overly forward to the point of discomfort, and yet apparently Alice finds this to be utterly endearing and they embark on a journey of love. Slowly Ryan meets Alice's friends and family, all encounters which turn rapidly pear-shaped. After dating, getting married and discussing the possibility of children, Alice finally has the revelation that Ryan has Asperger's. She has to 'fix' him so that he can function in 'normal' society.
There are interesting questions raised in this play in terms of the extent we suppress the truth in order to appease social expectations. There is something wonderful about an individual who is able to see the world in high-contrast shades of black and white, and the process of being taught to 'white lie' (in spite of being obviously critical to focus in a social context) is one that sits uneasily. Justin Stewart Cotta explores these ideas well as Ryan and manages to flesh out the character in a way that he is more than just his Asperger's - we see his kindness, quirks, and his passions. Less can be said for the character of Alice played by Lisa Gormley – as she is cast in a role that is underwritten and based on tired stereotypes. A chronic 'helper' personality, Alice is strongly powered by her desire to have a baby, the fate of the characters’ relationship hinging on this desire. I wonder, when Williamson could create any character he desired, why would he select these cliche character traits? It stumped me.
Williamson seems to enjoy writing dialogue where all the female characters remark at how brilliant and what a genius Ryan is, while their own intelligence is diminished. Williamson's attitude is clear - men should be valued first for their intellect and women first for their prettiness. We are presented with a protagonist who, in spite of crude ignorance of social cues and blatant rudeness (often bereft of charm) is apparently the subject of Alice's ardent curiosity and love. This character is a product of Williamson's delusional picture of a man who gives a woman three consecutive orgasms after insulting her and taking no consideration of her emotional state.
Kilmurry's direction is sound, and yet the actors sometimes struggle to reach the emotional truths wanted by the work with quick-fire narrative transitions between time and space. Splendidly, Rachel Gordon does some great work as Alice's friend, Carla, causing me to crack a few smiles. Her presence brings a zing to the stage as she pushes comedic buttons in the work. Anna Gardiner’s design paired with Christopher Page's lighting design is striking, with a visual representation of brain connectivity and function spanning the back wall. It tied together the systematic use of colour to comprehend other people’s emotions in a visually engaging manner.
While there is good humour and interesting ideas explored, the old-fashioned baggage that quagmires the show doesn’t feel worth the slog. I would be interested to hear how someone with Asperger’s, or someone close to a person with Asperger’s, feels about the show. I can’t claim to know whether the creative team did a character with the syndrome a service or disservice – I’d love to hear what you think.