Traps: A Romantic Comedy for the Modern Sociopath by Amelia Evans and new Melbourne company One Word Productions might be the boldest shift in the Rom Com genre since Meg Ryan went a bit bad in Addicted To Love.
Certainly veterinarian Joe (Rachel Perks) isn’t your typical romantic leading man, or vet for that matter. He’s like Bondi Vet Dr Chris Brown with similarly strong jaw, rigidly styled short hair and toothy smile, but without the bouts of manufactured drama.
Further, the darkness of the comedy component won’t be for everyone. Even though we have to imagine the animals in Joe’s practice and elsewhere, some might be unable to join in with laughter at the violence insinuated against them. Joe dutifully and patiently attends to his mother, represented by a pink wig suspended by a rope. Although she frequently subjects him to abuse borne of frustration at how her life has gone, at least he can retreat downstairs to work on his music.
At the clinic though, he’s the boss. He has an intern Stephanie (Marissa O’Reilly), a woman with a sporty and rugged past. She’s quite the animal nut though, and as much as she finds herself attracted to Joe, she can’t readily oblige Joe’s orders to feed the unwanted animals to Polly, the practice’s 400kg saltwater crocodile.
Despite her affections, it’s crossbow-toting Julia (Charles Purcell) who catches Joe’s eye, following a visit with a stray chihuahua she shot fearing it was a rat trying to fly into her mouth. Joe’s a young, successful professional white male. Why can’t he have whatever he wants, regardless of what other people think or how it makes them feel?
What follows might remind some of John Fowles 1963 novel The Collector, but here the female characters get to have more agency, appropriately for a modern tale. We retain some of the tropes of the Rom Com genre, such as Stephanie’s transformation for Joe by taking of her glasses and letting down her hair. Yet, it’s a little difficult to believe some of the relationships due to Joe’s times of antipathy towards women.
There’s certainly a lot of inventiveness in Traps, between the suspended hair, character’s unusual digestive habits, mental health issues, and our narrator (Tom Dent) desperately wanting to be a character. Throw in alternative endings as in Wayne’s World, and sometimes this feels like a variety show looking for a tent. One that may also feel surprisingly long for its slated 60 minutes if the humour doesn’t appeal.
The company certainly has talent though. Perks’ Joe definitely had the intensity and unhinged grin of a sociopath dealing with a need to have approval from mother, as well as one with full commitment to unorthodox courtship methods. Purcell’s gave a coherent characterisation of Julia as both ditzy and capable of violence.
O’Reilly played a good transformation as the mousy Stephanie rediscovering inner strength. Dent fully embraced the absurdity of the narrator who can talk to us but finds getting involved in the story more daunting. Under Evans’ direction, the script achieves moments of tension, and when needed, some absurd breaks that were used with suitable restraint so as not to overwhelm scenes.
Some might wish for a play that doesn’t have so many unclear motivations. However, laughter at various sections and good applause showed that many in the house rated this unconventional offering well.
TRAPS: A Romantic Comedy for the Modern Sociopath
Studio 1 – Arts House (Town Hall) 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Performance: Sunday 17 September 2017 – 6.45pm
Season continues to 30 September 2017
Information and Bookings: www.melbournefringe.com.au
Image: TRAPS: A Romantic Comedy for the Modern Sociopath – courtesy of One Word Productions
Review: Jason Whyte