Venue: Star Theatre 2, 145 Sir Donald Bradman Drive, Hilton
Season: 8pm Thurs to Sat to 5th Nov 6:30pm Wed 2nd Nov 2011
Duration: 2hrs 30min incl interval
Tickets: Adult $25/conc $20
Bookings: 0439 533 173 or http://www.mixedsalad.com.au
Terrence McNally's 1991 play was originally set on Fire Island, where residents are celebrating the Fourth of July, but this production has been relocated to Australia. We find two couples relaxing on the deck by the pool outside a beach house. Fire Island, just south of Long Island is famous for it gay clubs and community, so the transfer of location is a little awkward as the reason for the two couples being surrounded by gay residents is not explained. David, the original owner of the beach house, has died from AIDS and has left the property to his sister, Sally Truman. She and her loutish husband, Sam, are unsure what to do with it and her brother, John Haddock, and his wife, Chloe, are spending New Year's Eve with them to help them decide.
The action all takes place on the one day, seen over three acts, the first two running consecutively. We look in on the group just after breakfast, again at lunchtime, and finally in the short time leading up to and just beyond midnight. As they day continues we discover that the four have their secrets, some kept to themselves, others shared with another of the group. Throughout the play we are privy to their private thoughts, those insights signalled to us by freezing the rest of the cast and reducing the light levels. Some of these secrets come to light and result in a mix of reactions, even ranging as far as physical violence. They also expose their homophobia and their ignorance and irrational fear of HIV/AIDS.
Director, Dave Simms, assisted by Sally Putnam, makes good use of the stylish, dual level set, presumably, as no acknowledgement is given in the programme, designed by Simms. Although the gay neighbours are never seen nor heard, the diverse range music to which they are listening drifts in, to mixed responses, and the four unhappy campers interact with them occasionally. Simms has carefully balanced the comedy with the deeper moments, the humour with the unpleasant thematic material, drawing out excellent performances from his cat.
At the start Chloe is hyperactive, trying hard to engage the other three, who are lazing around by the pool. She flounces about the set, poses and sings, trying to get some interaction going. Nicole Rutty is full of energy as the amateur musical theatre enthusiast, seemingly rather self-centred and a little vacuous, but hiding her husband's secret under her display of brightness. Rutty is vivacious and carries off the role with aplomb.
Peter Davies plays her husband, John Haddock, a quiet, surly specimen, but we discover why when one of his secrets, the one shared with Chloe, is revealed. That is not, however, his only secret. Davies presents a convincing grumpiness and, in his rich performance, we see the loneliness of a man who never fully opens up to anybody, alienating himself.
Steve Parker plays Sam Truman, giving us a boorish man who appears to think little of the feelings of those around him. In spite of his openly expressed homophobia, Sam becomes voyeuristic when he is left alone and notices two of the neighbours who have slipped away from their party together. Parker's finely honed performance at this point subtly opens up another side of Sam.
Tracey Walker plays his wife, Sally, stalwart and bearing the burden of his insensitivity. She, too, has her secrets and Walker is superb in the role, showing us a suppressed depression that Sam is oblivious to, but that Chloe recognises and gets her to talk about.
The hysteria about HIV/AIDS, and the nonsensical fear of contracting the disease by indirect means is no longer particularly relevant. Homophobia still exists but, thankfully, is not as widespread and intensely overt as it once was. These central ideas in this play show that it has aged considerably but, fortunately, there is much more to it than that. The four performers create a taut situation and explore a range of attitudes and emotions but, even though there appears to be some reconciliation at the end, there are still a few niggling doubts in the minds of the audience that there could still be some rough times ahead. There are only a few more performances so be quick for this one.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.