By James Ong
Part of the Step Up Festival run through KXT, this production of Samo is Dead is actually the second edition. The same play and same creative team (lead by director Sophia Bryant and writer/Producer Jodi Rabinowitz) emerged earlier in 2019 and ran through the University of Sydney Union’s Bright Ideas program. This time round, the team has tweaked the script, the design and the cast as the young creative troupe aims to refine their piece of work. Having read Theatre Travels’ review of this earlier piece, I walked into KXT keen to see what kind difference 5 months can make.
We follow the intertwining stories of three disaffected twenty-somethings in a small Australian town. Beth, played by a sympathetic Georgia McGuiness, as she juggles a new friend and an old friend that thrust themselves into her working life. Luke is a contemplative and socially inept artist, played with ultimate insufferability by Sam Fraser, who frequents Beth’s cafe to drink a soy flat white and berate the waitress as he continues his art. We are later introduced to Holly (Grace Stamnas), an old school friend of Beth’s who just got a job at the cafe. The entirety of this almost two and a half hour work alternates between the perpetually empty cafe and Luke’s bedroom as the three chat about their Beth’s resistance to change, Holly using her sexuality to progress her ambitions, Luke’s obsession with artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and the groups’ casual drug use/abuse. The titular Samo is in reference to a pseudonym used by Basquiat that was retired after a falling out with his creative partner. This intertextual tie aims build a sense of artistic viability and intellectualism, but is never truly utilised to its full potential.
The trio does a great job of filling their respective roles with personal idiosyncrasies and distinct character logic, though none are particularly likeable. Despite all feeling very well realised and full of life, I found it hard to invest any emotional energy into these three young white Australians who use malice and degradation to get away with doing very little over the almost two and half hour run time. It’s all very Sorkian in that sense (another intertextual reference for you); the play banks on rambling, sardonic jibes, aiming to entertain the audience with their creative meanness rather than expanding the plot or any of the themes. The actors, though clearly talented in being acidic to one another, lack the essential charm needed to fully build that emotional connect. Sure, there are funny moments, but once the funny fades, all this has done is leave us feeling even less invested in them and their barren social lives.
Rabinowitz splits the play two, with the first act dedicated to building characters, their relationships and the limited world they inhabit, while the second takes a gentle turn, allowing small seeds planted earlier to finally bloomed into some fully fledge plot points. Plot or progression are not in focus, and nor are they meant to be. In this sense Samo is Dead is a clear exercise in the mumblecore genre; characterised by a minimalistic or nonexistent plot and showcasing pensive and apathetic young people who question and show disdain for their position in life (or lack thereof). The mumblecore genre may be a particular pet peeve of mine, but it is clear the cast and crew understood the concepts of this narrative style and were able to implement them effectively. Due to a barebones narrative, a large weight of the production has to be carried by the design elements (here placed in the capable hands of Jake Starr) and here the production excelled. Starr and Bryant capably balanced visual and sonic elements of the design with a soft touch. Costumes were appropriately unflashy, but full of character, while the lighting and sound cleverly elevated the setting and conveyed progression (of time at least).
Ultimately, Samo is Dead is defined by its distinct lack of progression; an acknowledgement that any “problems” or “hardships” these “characters” “endure” are inconsequential, and effectively illustrate just how shallow and conceited their young world view. This growing resentment so many young adults feel is definitely relatable and taps into a concept that is not often realised on stage, but unfortunately in its translation to the stage, I am awash with the same indifference the characters feel to one another.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.