SBW Stables Theatre, February 27


Josh Quong Tart and Kate Cheel. Photo: Brett Boardman.

We get the thrust. Unrequited love hollows you out; leaves a husk where a heart should have been. In case we didn’t get it, playwright Mary Rachel Brown has Angela, Gabriel’s ex, tell him: “Say goodbye, it is the least you could do if you really do love me… Let go.” Even Gabe, whose drinking has blunted his keener instincts for doing the right thing, gets the thrust at that point.

Yet it wasn’t Gabe who needed the lecture. Okay, so he may have been quietly killing himself with booze, but red wine is a slow train to that particular destination. He tried speeding up the process by gassing himself, but the booze had blunted his smarts for getting suicide right, too. Basically Gabe (Josh Quong Tart) is an uninhabitable planet around which the other characters orbit: one lovingly, and two desperately trying to rewrite the laws of gravity. The problem is that he is also the only character we even slightly care about. Yes, the guy whom the playwright paints as selfish and self-indulgent, as surviving in an alcoholic haze amid literary pretensions, is actually earthy and vaguely likeable, while the rest are emotionally shrill and stunted.

Kate Cheel. Photo: Brett Boardman.

And angry. Angela (Lucia Mastrantone), Matilda, Gabe’s new, much younger girlfriend (Kate Cheel) and Tony, Angela’s Gabe substitute (Johnny Nasser) all adopt anger towards Gabe as a default position. They make sure we know this by shouting and even shrieking in the Stables’ tiny confines. Were I Gabe, I’d drink, too.

Brown artificially raises the stakes, so anger and resentment are inflated like so much Venezuelan currency. She also has her plot rotating on points that feel imposed. Only in the final third do the play’s story, characterisations and emotional stakes achieve some balance, at which point certain scenes become suddenly compelling. This final third – where Tony explains the terrifying truth that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference – was probably the play Brown sought to write.

Director Mitchell Butel (for Griffin Theatre) could have flattered her efforts by dialling down the angst from all but Quong Tart, who rises above his colleagues in a performance that puts warm flesh on Gabe’s boozy bones, and makes him seem more put upon than offender. Despite some deft touches from the design team, this is a worthy play that got away.

Until April 6.