Review by Alison Stoddart
In the elegantly refurbished Bondi Pavilion Theatre a drama of bad behaviour, dubious morals, a lack of integrity and good old-fashioned death unfurled on opening night. The Stoned Ape is a production of differing levels of quality and professionalism that plays out over two hours with a cast of eight.
The play unfolds in a series of scenes encompassing three main groups. Against a background of Sydney’s self-imposed social hierarchy (which at its grass roots level is pivotal around money, those who have it and those who aspire to it), there is the A plot, the B plot and a strangely bewildering C plot involving an unhinged nurse and her soon-to-be organ transplant donor which ends in tragedy.
The A plot revolves around two Sydney Gen Z’ers, Henry and Summer who are so incredibly on trend that Summer’s thrifted wardrobe accurately captures the current look. These two educated and entitled twenty somethings have lazily given up on the traditional way of earning a living, through education and hard work, hypocritically turning on their own social sector by selling drugs to them (Henry) and conning them on dating sites (Summer). Henry makes a Faustian bargain with a heavily tattooed criminal underworld figure (a highly exciting performance by an oddly mellifluous Johnny Boxer) which ends in tragedy.
Plot B is a wry and amusing dive into the rising rate of divorce, and those who prey upon it, with a wily divorce lawyer Prue Cunningham (Susan Jordan) who has an answer for everything and not a skerrick of empathy. Upon hearing her client, the soon to be divorced and uber wealthy Mrs Maxwell, remark that she is hoping for a reconciliation with her husband, Prue crisply replies ‘reconciliation is for balance sheets and genocide’. The writing and dialogue of the play often misses its mark but there were certainly some highlights which had the audience chuckling out loud.
Of special mention is the talent of Harley Connor who plays a trio of characters and nails the kinesics of his roles beautifully.
The denouement, in essence where the strands of the plot are drawn together, is a long time coming and unsatisfactory in its delivery. Taking its cue from current streaming trends with TV shows ending on an unfinished note and promising the lure of another season, the Stoned Ape ends on a whimsical sentence delivered unconvincingly as ‘that’s what sequels are for’, a tactic that perhaps does not transfer to the stage. A comment on society and its soul-destroying aspects, delivered with some insightful and perceptive dialogue or a monologue by Henry could have proved more satisfying.
The Stoned Ape shows flashes of brilliance and it is easy to see it sniffing around searching for a profound understanding of human vulnerability, but it gets bogged down in its own storytelling and clarity and purpose is subsequently lost.
I am sure each tale is designed to hurl towards its devastating climax but unfortunately instead it meanders, and at times loses its way. The attempt to tackle too many big issues and the resulting mishmash of two hours could be pared back to better effect. Instead, the pleasure of a smart bar and a superbly renovated heritage listed building is the highlight of the night.