KXT on Broadway, March 31


Do you remember falling off your bike, and the little gritty bits of bitumen getting stuck in your grazed flesh? Cherry Smoke is as raw as those wounds, while also having an aura of magic realism. James McManus wrote the play nearly two decades ago, and on one level it’s a prescient look at how the Trump “deplorables” of the future could eventuate – or not.

Tom Dawson. Top: Fraser Crane. Photos: Abraham de Souza.

It tells of four teens, all under 15 to begin, who must make their way in a pitiless, parentless world on the edge of a nameless town in rustbelt America. Fish (Tom Dawson) is a fighter – by nature and for money. “I look at him, and I just see a volcano waiting for a guy to raise an eyebrow,” says his younger brother, Duffy (Fraser Crane). Elsewhere, the metaphor changes to Fish having wires broken or missing, but you get the point: he’s a kid who is so volatile that he’ll break his own hand if he believes that will make his punch harder when it heals.

Nonetheless, despite mostly being in jail for bashing someone on negligible provocation, or earning beer-and-fries money from boxing, he’s loved by Duffy and – more ardently – his girlfriend Cherry (Meg Hyeronimus), a part-time fortune-teller blessed with the odd vision of Jesus Christ. Cherry can coax out Fish’s softer side: a side not just about sex (although they work that goldmine with typical teen gusto), but about caring. Duffy, who is both brighter and less brutal than his brother, finds his own fulfillment in the arms of Bug (Alice Birbara), who’s studying to be a nurse’s aide, and is unable to bear the children she craves.

Alice Birbara and Meg Hyeronimus. Photos: Abraham de Souza.

Directed by Charlie Vaux (for Crisscross Productions), the play christens Kings Cross Theatre’s new home on Broadway in Ultimo – an intimate space, not unlike its predecessor. Vaux’s production stays taut as the chronology skips back and forth as if over a rope, and it catches all the play’s surface abrasiveness. The acting is committed, with Crane and especially Hyeronimus able to wrap us in their vulnerabilities and take us with them.

But the good work is undone by the American accents continually wandering, especially those of Dawson (back to Australian) and Birbara (to English). This becomes more and more of a distraction, undermining the overall quality of the production.