Savage in Limbo

Arts Review Q44 Savage in LimboIt’s easy to change your life – according to magazines at least – just get a fresh hair-do or buy a new shirt. But what if your troubles are more existential than cosmetic? Q44 Theatre explore this idea in their production of John Patrick Shanley’s Savage in Limbo, a play presenting characters certain about wanting to try a new direction in life, yet uncertain about how to do it.

Savage in Limbo has the byline “It’s the Bronx. It’s a Monday night, and it’s time to make a change.” The setting – Scales bar – is portentous on a night when destinies are in the balance. Under the watch of subdued barman Murk (Kostas Illias) endlessly polishing glasses, Scales looks the sort of place that wouldn’t even ponder the pretence of a “happy hour”. Slumped at the bar is April (Andrea McCannon), taking advantage of the sedate atmosphere.

Quietude is disrupted as the titular Savage, first name Denise (Samantha Mesh), a Bronx local, bursts into the bar. Mesh gives Denise abundant energy; she’s failed to find any action bar-hopping so far tonight, and in the dull surrounds of Scales, her energy goes into shuffling cards or agitating the irritable Murk. Linda (Sarah Nicolazzo) sobs in a corner. Her ego has taken a hit after her long-running Monday night hook-up has ended abruptly as hunky Tony “wants to see ugly women”.

The three women, all 32, went to school together and lost contact. All get the chance to tell their story. McCannon’s April helps us understand that, once the plan for her life fell through, she avoids action by numbing herself with alcohol.

Nicolazzo’s Linda communicates her fear that if she doesn’t have a regular thing that might lead to a substantial relationship, she’ll go back to getting attention wherever she can. Mesh’s Denise explains how she feels she’s missed out on everything that’s important. We get to understand the burdens of these characters, and their desire for change, as the three women form a plan for the future.

However, that resolve can’t long withstand the arrival of Tony (Anthony Scundi). Himbo Tony is still reeling from his own flash of self-awareness; living in a garage and easily enticing each new hot chick for a “bounce on the mattress” means he’s living a limited life. He becomes a lightening rod for Denise’s hopes, and the exacerbation of Linda’s desperation. His presence highlights the trouble that these characters have sticking to a plan for the future when they have no conviction for any particular alternative.

Scundi is in touch with his inner Joey from Friends; he oozes machismo, is blunt, even coarse in talking about women, whilst struggling to work through and articulate his recent insight. When he fumbles and shows hesitancy, it is appropriate and believable, and a particular success of the collaboration of Scundi and director Gabriella Rose-Carter. His confusion at his own behaviour also makes the piece the closest to being the “black comedy” it is billed as.

It is unfortunate that as the drama heats up, his delivery, that of Nicollazo and especially Mesh doesn’t always serve our insight into the story. The rapid dialogue communicates urgency, but as the thoughts and metaphors fly by like a subway train, I found myself wishing the characters would draw breath and allow their words time to resonate with the audience.

The rapidity also had the effect of stomping on some of the laughs as we focused in on the next verbal avalanche. The fluency was more akin to The Gilmour Girls than characters of very ordinary backgrounds, struggling towards understanding themselves as they are forced to form their fears into words or strike bargains.

Still, there was a lot to like about my first trip to the inner-city arts commune of Q44 for the telling of Savage in Limbo. The set design and construction team effectively made Scales feel something like a bar of last resort, aided by Rebecca Fortuna’s lighting design.

It was also a smart touch to have the audience seated at tables and chairs as if we were there with the characters. There are certainly some quality moments in the production. As this was early in the season, the performances may yet find a rhythm that extends the lucidity of the first half of the play into the second.

Director: Gabriella Rose-Carter  Cast: Kostas Ilias, Andrea McCannon, Samantha Mesh, Sarah Nicolazzo, Anthony Scundi  Set Design: Gabriella Rose-Carter & Samantha Mesh  Costumes: Chris Drossos for Red Cross Shops  Sound: William Prescott  Lighting Operator/Assistant Stage Manager: Will Atkinson  Stage Manager: Rebecca Fortuna  Producer: Samantha Mesh

Savage in Limbo
Q44 Theatre, First Floor, 550 Swan St, Richmond
Performance: Saturday 22 August 2015 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 6 September 2015
Bookings: www.q44.com.au

For more information, visit: www.q44.com.au for details.

Image: Anthony Scundi as Tony and Sarah Nicolazzo as Linda in Savage In Limbo – courtesy of Q44 Theatre

Review: Jason Whyte

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