May 7, 2008

Ruben Guthrie

Ruben Guthrie continues the fine tradition of exciting Australian theatre that entertains on a consistent basis at the Belvoir Theatre. Showing, although for not much longer, in the intimate downstairs theatre as part of the B Sharp season, this play is sharp and perceptive, funny and compassionate. A thorough success for acclaimed actor Brendan Cowell, who was commissioned to write this play after winning the Philip Parsons Young Playwright's Award in 2005. He has certainly done a fine job with this Wayne Blair directed play, making us laugh and think in an assured and direct way.

Ruben Guthrie (Toby Schmitz) is a hot shot creative at a big time advertising agency. His life seems to one long parade of women, parties, booze and drugs. His grip on reality is under siege as he lives life in an alcoholic haze. He receives a dual wake up call, when he breaks his arm during a frequent bender, which is followed by his Czech girlfriend Zoya (Samantha Reed) leaving him to return home. She is sick of his destructive lifestyle and wants to put their relationship into the distant past. Ruben decides to then go to AA meetings to kick his destructive habit. Unfortunately he finds it hard to lead a life of sobriety as he is surrounded by friends and family that make it difficult for him. His boss Ray (Christopher Stollery) feels a sober life will dim his creative edge. His best mate Damian (Torquil Neilson) returns from New York and lives life through a bottle. Damian finds it hard to comprehend Ruben's new found lifestyle. Ruben's father, an excellent Lex Marinos, is a life long drinker who also seems dismayed with Ruben's choice. Then there is Virginia (Megan Drury), a strange and vivacious creature who is a recovering drug addict. She is also Ruben's sponsor, but she falls for Ruben creating a complicated situtation. Their relationship is pivotal to the play's success. They depend on each other for comfort and love, but the dependencies they have for their vices also crushes their relationship. There are some beautiful moments between the two of them. Moments of joy and pain.

This play is a success on two important levels. As a piece of entertainment it is expertly performed and written. Schmitz is a revelation. He is on stage for the duration, his character and charm overflowing into the audience. Cowell's script is funny and sharp, with many pop culture references and humorous moments. But "Ruben Guthrie" also serves as a commentary on modern society. As Ruben's mother (Tracy Mann) says "It's the drink, it's the drink". Even though Ruben's occupation is laced with alcohol and drugs, there are references through out to the seeming need of Australian society to constantly enjoy life through the bottom of a glass. As if it is impossible to live life without having to depend on or lean upon something artificial for assistance. I often wonder about the destructive nature of alcohol and drugs and why people go down that path as their sole enjoyment in life. This wonderful piece of theatre manages to encapsulate those ideas in a thoroughly entertaining and humorous way.

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