This play is about the difference a day makes in the disintegrating life of a man succumbing to his disappointment. It takes place against the backdrop of upwardly mobile folk of inner city Melbourne - buying apartments, paying mortgages, dealing with the growing tedium of working life, experiencing marriages coming under stress, and turning to perfectly lined-up shot glasses promising more allure than life actually offers.
The Contemporarian Theatre Company has adapted Duck Hunting from the original play written in 1968 by Russian playwright Alexandr Vampilov. Director Shai Alexander has taken the theatre traditions of the Russian avant garde to create a fractured, fascinating and often hilarious black comedy. It is about the not-so-heroic Craig Stephens, cheating his wife, cheating his boss, and cheating his friends as he loses his will to live.
The cast is tight and the production is disciplined. The characters wheedle and stutter and spit out their lines, adopting the postures and gestures of their emotions and relationships. They often speak their lines to one another while facing the audience, as if we are the mirror in which they can see one another. There is a projector screen at the back serving sometimes as a stage within the stage through which the actors address us. There is a lot that is enigmatic and disturbing in the play and at times some in the audience laughed out loud at action the rest of us were contemplating more sombrely, reflecting the fractured nature of this tale.
The lead role of Craig is delivered with energy and truth by Christian Heath. He is a strong and physical actor and his emotional performance held this play together. Nicholas Drummond as Elliot is the calm foil to Craig’s increasing frenzy, growing more menacing as the play progresses. Craig’s bumptious friends, Michael (Michael Sottile) and David (Joshua Wiseman), deliver the buffoonery that was present in the original play. Paul Gerrard as Andy, Craig’s boss, is in equal parts bullying and desperate for affection.
There was an electric performance from Michelle de Rosa as Alina – with all the pathos of a puppet being played by deceiving men around her. Louise Harding plays the role of Craig’s cheated wife Katherine as statuesque and glamorous but without the emotional depth that the role needs to meet the power of his performance. For all their hard work, the play did not offer a great deal for the female cast to work with. The roles they were required to play were not contemporary but very much of the era of the original play. They were victims, on pedestals, living according to rules that were largely determined by the men.
The play is long, so eat dinner beforehand! It is well worth it – a unique first offering from a dynamic new theatre company.
Duck Hunting is running at Newtown's King St. Theatre until November 29. Check out the Sydney Scoop calendar for performance times.