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Published on Wednesday, 24 August 2011

3 stars

The Playhouse at Hawke and Hunter Green Room (venue website)
3-7, 9-14, 16-21, 23-29 Aug, 1:40pm-3:10pm
Reviewed by Carmel Doohan

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

In an expensive dining room, a middle-aged woman calmly drinks a glass of red wine. So far, so very well-to-do. Except that they are bankrupt – and when her husband enters, asking where she wants the flowers, she tells him to shove them… well, you can guess the rest. Appearances, it seems, can be deceptive, and we are about to watch this couple argue their way to the heart of this very problem.

Shelley is trying to get the bottom of their financial and emotional mess by drinking and crying, while husband Laurie is sure everything will all be all right. The rich American guests they are waiting for never arrive, but for the first twenty minutes I am hoping against hope that they will; this man and his wife don't appear to have enough rhythm, chemistry or unrepeated lines to pull this off. After half an hour of looping dialogue I am sure that if I hear her shriek “Why did we come here?” or “You should never have married me” one more time, I will have to leave.

Then suddenly something shifts – the tone becomes metaphysical and the scope widens. The writing begins to allow questions like “what is love?” and “what is hope?” to form and makes wise, genuine attempts to examine them. Ideas of selfishness and silencing and the ways these things can be disguised are layered into their words; for both them and us, the moments grow rich with meaning. Hope – so often thought of as an unarguably good thing – is made to shiver in a critical and piercing light, turning all our reassuring platitudes into something more insidious.

Their conversation is about their personal financial crisis, but could easily be applied more universally. When the Irish Shelly warns of the danger of “piling on more and more hope,” the ruined Celtic tiger is invoked, along with our collective ability to only see what we want to see regardless of the facts. Yet no easy answers are given; the “honesty” she wants Laurie to face is no truer. Twisted by need and self-pity, destruction has become the only currency they have left.

Although under-edited and lacking structure, there are moments when this piece is reminiscent of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolfe. Both are evenings of recrimination and breakdown, which force appearances to be torn aside in a way that is frighteningly and politically insightful. The problem here is that Watts' couple, unlike Albee's, is not deep or engaging enough to carry the weight of what they reveal. Watts obviously has many important things to say, but when he pulls us back into the specifics of Shelley and Laurie's relationship, we find nothing there beyond two unlikeable people squabbling.

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