WHEN DAD MARRIED FURY
WHEN DAD MARRIED FURY, Ensemble Theatre, 9 May-16 June 2012. Season extension: Theatre Royal: 22 & 23 June. Photos by Steve Lunam: Nick Tate, Cheree Cassidy and Lorraine Bayly; right: Cheree Cassidy.
How do you accumulate $100 million without breaking a sweat? Apparently you advise other people where to invest their hard-earned cash while not committing any of your own. That's what Alan (Nick Tate) has done. And he's been extra successful because, while reaping the rewards of giving seemingly excellent advice in boom times, he also managed to pull a swifty when the markets tanked in 2009. He actually made some extra $$$ while all around, investors were losing everything and more in the worst financial crash since the Depression. Sound familiar?
David Williamson, with Ensemble's director Sandra Bates, has been making comedy and comment out of the events of the moment for decades and this time he's turned his attention to the recent global financial crisis and the very peculiar twists and turns of contemporary American politics and religion.
Alan's two sons, Ian (Warren Jones) and Ben (Jamie Oxenbould), have come to celebrate their dad's 70th with their wives, sharp lawyer Sue (Lenore Smith) and earnest feminist Laura (Di Adams). Trouble is, where there's a Will there's a terrible family row brewing and this family is typical. The idea of a half share of $100 million is irresistible, except to Laura who snorts that she's not interested in the money, while the others plead with her to just Shut Up!
It's tricky for Laura though, because her father has recently committed suicide after faithfully following Alan's advice and losing everything, including his shirt and home. Her mother Judy (Lorraine Bayly) now lives in a miserable rented house and is - not surprisingly - extremely unhappy with her lot. And lest sympathy isn't immediately forthcoming, she's also got a gammy leg.
Finally, there's Alan's new wife, the young, fertile, glamorous American beauty Fury (Cheree Cassidy), taken - according to the offspring - in unseemly haste only a year after the death of their cherished mother.
This set-up takes far too long and is ponderously over- and under-done by about ten fidgety minutes. But then something happens which is riveting, unexpected and extremely entertaining. The entire play pivots, the action becomes dynamic, the audience sits up straight and begins to pay the closest attention. Suddenly new territory is opened up and it's a place many are bewildered by, astonished by, and quite desperate to understand.
If this sounds all too mysterious, the reason is that the bombshell dropped - not long before the interval - is one that shouldn't be spoilt and also one that powers the second half in a way that's absent from most of the first. While Dad, Fury and the family are all standard characters - what might be called archetypes on a more fashionable stage - they are the catalysts for a surprising examination of a modern phenomenon that infects our neighbour across the Pacific and bamboozles most of us.
There are further twists and turns of character and plot revelation before the end and the story-telling is as rich and satisfying as a good, traditional fruit cake. If you happen to enjoy traditional fruit cake, you'll enjoy the latest "Williamson". If you don't then you really should be tucking in to something else and not complaining that this play isn't it.
So, what is When Dad Married Fury? First of all, it's a conventional comedy-drama that delivers laughs and jolts in equal measure. It's also a play that probes aspects of the United States that most of us find both horrifying and transfixing. The writer has done his research and in the character of Fury - another fine performance from Cheree (The Boys) Cassidy - he has fashioned a conduit to many of the preoccupations of these times.
It feels like a rush job, however, and it would have benefited from some more work. A cut and polish would solve the static opening; a long look at the focus might shift it from the everyday to the out of the ordinary. Meanwhile, given the strong performances of the cast and the exceptional contribution of Cheree Cassidy, there is much to enjoy. Easy laughs are tempered by the underpinnings of sobering moral dilemmas (what price an investment banker's word?) and the weird and not wonderful antics of the ignorant yet powerful and privileged. If you're a fan you'll be happy, if you're not, you might be pleasantly surprised.