The Hitmen is a little reminiscent of Angels in America. Not because it charts a nation’s unsteady struggle through the onset of the ‘80s AIDS crisis, through the interlocking stories of a Mormon couple torn asunder by the husband’s closeted homosexuality, a guilt-stricken legal flunky who leaves his AIDS-stricken partner, and the last days of an arch-conservative haunted by the sly taunting ghost of executed spy Ethel Rosenberg – but because it’s long.
You feel that length like a stone around your neck, or perhaps more like heavy stones in Virginia Woolf’s coat pockets. It doesn’t matter that the quality of the work is superb, in the end the weight will pull you down and under. Kudos are absolutely deserved to playwright Mish Wittrup for such a fun text, but it feels like there’s a spectacular and incendiary 100 minute play underneath it all.
It’s a brilliant premise, to be sure: A group of strangers arrive for a group job interview, which just so happens to be a job as an assassin. Assuming new names, John, John, John, John, John, and John (played by Rhys James, Darren Mort, Raymond Martini, Tammy Weller, Sophia Petridis, Leo Thompson, respectively) fight for the lone position available.
Backed up by her aid, John (Michael Argus), Gwen (Cazz Bainbridge) runs the session with a charming mix of decorum and sociopathy. The ensemble drives a lot of the action, but it’s really on Cazz’s shoulders that the play is carried. Costume and set are almost completely white, the sterility a lovely contrast to the mayhem we know will unfold.
Indeed, the most fascinating aspect of the show isn’t working out who survives, but rather the relationship each John has to violence – in their respective pasts, in the present moment, and in the future with what might be required of them should they get the job. No one really objects in principle to murder, and Mish uses that muddied grey morality to great effect. It’s a bit of a long one, but Baker’s Dozen have put on a splendid show.
Meat Market, 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 14 December 2017 – 8.00pm
Image: Cazz Bainbridge and Rhys James feature in The Hitmen (supplied)
Review: David Collins