David Williamson seems to think Crikey has it in for him. But his latest play, When Dad Married Fury, shows sparks and flashes of the classic Williamson of old, his kiln fired by sociopolitical fury; yes, when David was married to fury. Not the white-haired, wilting Willo who has so much been in our midst of late, with inconsequential dramatic contrivances and finger-wagging didactics. These are, however, mere sparks. The play still short-circuits, despite its topicality, zeroing-in, as it does on the GFC, its callous perpetrators and their hapless victims.
In theory, I, for one, might find it affecting, having fallen prey to a sophisticated white-collar criminal who has stolen my financial viability. And yet, DW still doesn’t manage to convince me of his sincerity. He makes all the right noises, but by now observations about the lack of consequences for the wonderful bankers who brought us the recession, teetering on depression, we really didn’t have to have, are passé and the stuff of cliche. The subject is a worthy one but, already, surely, almost done to death.
Fury even has some of the key elements of classic Williamson, since there’s tension between the forces of capitalist evil and the artist. One wonders, these days, if this tension isn’t implicit to David himself: Noosa versus Balmain. Happily, he mocks both ends of the spectrum. The strange thing is, I find myself so much on the same page, notionally, with the tall poppy. My political preferences, postures and passions more than roughly equate. And yet, I’m not quite engaged or persuaded that he’s being honest with me, as against adopting the posture we’ve come to expect; arduously, rather than earnestly, trying to have us believe he’s still the same angry, young man we knew and loved.
Maybe he is, but there’s something that feels slightly disingenuous here. Like David, and with a modicum of white locks of my own, I prefer to see myself as the angry, young man (rather than just a a grumpy, old one) too. But, at the same time, I recognise the angry, young man I once was a naive idealist. I still adhere to the idealism, but no longer subscribe to the naivety. This isn’t an excuse for mutton dressed up as lamb, conservatism dressed-up as ‘pragmatism. Rather, a recognition that the world will probably never be as just as many of us would prefer it. There’s no revolution in sight, but incremental evolution is infinitely possible. But I don’t get that from David. I get the tired, old naive idealism and a sense of whingeing and whining about the attrition in the mood for revolution. Time to put the chard down and get back to the hands-on socialism, methinks.
The Ensemble Theatre(last, diehard bastion of Williamsoniana)’s co-artistic director, the indefatigable Sandra Bates, directs a stellar, if eclectic cast. Di Adams is Laura, who’s father has just suicided in the wake of losing his life savings in an ill-fated investment (deja vu). She and her husband, Ben (Jamie Oxenbould) live, predictably, around Byron Bay (why not Noosa?); though, as Ben comically protests, “it’s actually closer to Lismore”. It’s with lines like this that DW is back on the bike and it’s a pity there aren’t more of them. This is what I mean by sparks, or glimmers; unfulfilled promises; a literary coitus interruptus.
Adams seems to represent a splinter of the Williamson persona: in this case, embodied in a middle-aged woman who won’t let go of her principles. Inasmuch, she (and DW) are to be admired. The trouble is, neither will let go of the attendant dogma, either. Perhaps this is a laudable feat of self-critical introspection. If so, the play arcs up in my estimation for that alone. Adams looks and sounds the part. She has been stripped of any attendant glamour to fit the shoes of the ageing, intellectually vital, not-so-trippy hippie.
Despite a versatility richly exemplified in other recent Ensemble productions, Oxenbould doesn’t look quite so comfortable as the disgruntled, restless associate professor, conflicted by an idealism he once shared unquestioningly with his wife, versus the allure of bling and ker-ching. He quietly harbours a latent desire for five-star resort holidays, pina coladas and pines, spurred on by his money-grubbing brother, Ian (Warren Jones). Unlike Oxenbould, Jones looks comfy in these shoes; an incorrigible bogan (“you think you’re well-dressed if your socks match,” his wife intones, with verbal hydrochloric acid) biding his time in eager anticipation of their multi-millionaire father’s untimely death. And if he’s brazenly money-grubbing, his wife, Sue, is downright gold-digging; barely, but ineffectually, concealing her hunger for inheritance.
Lenore Smith has the lean, mean look of a great white shark, with a nasal, whiny delivery to match. In their obscene ugliness, Ian and Sue make a beautiful couple. I don’t want to chime with Julia here, but they’re not exactly unfamiliar, either: Sydney’s upper north shore is sprinkled Liberally with folk like them. (Ooh, controversial!)
For quality of performance and convincing characterisation, Lorraine Bayly shares most of the limelight with Jones. She is Judy, Laura’s mother, the woman left behind and homeless by her dear, departed husband. Having said that, given the proximity of his death, neither Adams or Bayly reflect enough grief. I’m not sure if this is at the actors’, director’s, or writer’s behest, and I’m not proposing they should cry rivers of tears, but there’s an awkward unreality about the degree of their stoicism and healing.
Enter the accomplished Nick Tate, as Alan, a kind of mini-Murdoch, without the smarts. Like Rupert, he’s married a woman very much his junior, which gives rise to Ian’s grave fiscal concerns. Finally, we meet Fury, who’s made a motza out of furry greeting cards. (And yes, the phonetic connection you’re probably making constitutes the lame and redundant backstory as to how she earned her pet name. Why, David? Couldn’t she just be Thelma, or Louise; or Stella?) Tate look unsure of his lines and made quit a few stumbles, which was a little discomfiting and somewhat surprising. And though his character, like him, has spent time in the US, the hybrid accent was a little aggravating.
Cheree Cassidy’s Fury was a highly creditable contribution; all the mores that DW chose to accentuate her born again, Palinesque profile so ridiculously it was embarrassing. This smacks of the very naivety of which I spoke earlier. Yes, there are Americans like this. But New York, from where this power couple surely emerged, is hardly bursting at the seams with them. It doesn’t work, even if DW is desperate to jump all over neoconservatism and mindless fundamentalism. Who wouldn’t be? Yet it’s a redundant exercise. Leave the intellectual demolition of bible bashers to the obnoxious Dawkins. The rest is self-evident, so we don’t need to be told “65% of Americans don’t believe in evolution”.
Marissa Dale-Johnson’s set, plastered with pastel faux money was as pallid and pathetic as the play ends up. David, David, David. You came. You wrote. And once, you conquered. Alas, now, notwithstanding those flecks and fireflies, it’s a case of ‘ah, Magoo, you’ve done it again!’
The details: When Dad Married Fury plays the Ensemble Theatre until June 16. Tickets on the company website.