Review By Lily Thomson
A Simple Act Of Kindness written by Ross Mueller and directed by Peter Houghton is a delicious ticking time bomb of farcical family dynamics just waiting to explode. What makes this play so gloriously unhinged is its unique chemistry between a claustrophobic environment and the larger than life characters who are forced to inhabit it.
When writing about this piece I feel it is important to mention the Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre as one of Melbourne's most intimate theatre spaces, and therefore a playing ground which harmonises with this piece in such a way that makes the audience feel as if they are immersed in same world as the performers like a fly on the wall.
The play follows Sophia, played by Lou Wall, as she delves into the property market for the first time. The piece opens with her and her father, played by Joe Petruzzi inside of a modest in size, trendy and hyper-realistic apartment setting designed by the talents of Jacob Battista & Sophie Woodward.
Both Wall and Petruzzi are wonderfully skilled with their comedic rhythm and physicality, the two don’t miss a beat. I was reminded of the likes of Oscar Wilde or Michael Frayn, but that is also a testament to the writing of Mueller which is taut and tremendously self-aware. Sophia’s father agrees to give Sophia money to pay for the apartment because she lies that she is engaged to be married to Greg, portrayed charismatically by Khisraw Jones-Shukoor. But here is the thing, Greg is her closest friend and he is not remotely interested in being with a woman.
With talk of engagements and house warming celebrations we meet Sophia’s political aspiring mother played by Sarah Sutherland, who seemed to give off sparks of electricity whenever gracing the stage with her electric performance.
A spur of the moment decision changes the course of this family forever when Sophia’s father takes out a reverse mortgage rendering him and his wife penniless, meaning they have nowhere else to stay except for Sophia’s small, dilapidated apartment with her and her queer bestfriend posing as a married couple.
The second act of this piece is where we descend back into the surreal entrapment, highs and lows which the 2020 lockdown gifted us.The set is cluttered to perfection, strewn with cardboard boxes from online orders and stray cups of tea. The costume design, again by Jacob Battista & Sophie Woodward gives the audience a wonderful update on how the characters are thriving, or surviving in the lockdown.
The colourful lighting design of Amelia Lever Davidson and the supportive underscore of David Franzke elevate the elements of covid- nostalgia in this piece in a strangely sympathetic way. I think this piece handles the topic of covid in a way that reveals it to be an enhancer of issues that already exist between people instead of the issue in of itself, it was refreshing to be reminded that we all had issues before covid, and family conflicts run bone deep.
This play has so many surprising and unexpected insights within it on so many levels. A delicate balance of theatrical styles and the performers were able to walk this tightrope with the utmost precision. It is domestic bliss gone wrong in every possible way. It is family secrets bubbling to the surface and it is also about learning to rebel against tradition. This piece had me laughing out loud, holding my breath and face palming and yet I kept leaning in because of the crisp pacing and tight knit ensemble.