THE WAY THINGS WORK - MELBOURNE
THE WAY THINGS WORK, Red Stitch|The Actors Theatre, 31 January-5 March 2017. Photography by Teresa Noble
Democracy dies behind closed doors. The Way Things Work is a new play from the hand of Aidan Fennessy that brings us into the unsettling world of blind faith, manipulation, corruption and ultimate power. It is in three scenes that are separate but connected, the true connection becoming startlingly obvious towards the end of the third piece — this is when you put your hand over your mouth to stifle the gasp of realisation.
Fennessy has a deft ear for prose and he has given his two actors, Joe Petruzzi and Peter Houghton, a lot to play with and they do, in spades.
The set design is a white room with a filing cabinet and a table. A desk nameplate is changed to denote the scene change; a clever ploy for a small space. The music (Russell Goldsmith) is used brilliantly in the scene changes, keeping you interested and ready for what maybe coming next. Matt Scott’s lighting works well and is complimentary to the sound design and the performance space.
In scene I we have Petruzzi as the Minister who has done a bit of cost cutting on a big infrastructure deal so he could come out as the hero ‘on time and under budget’ It (the deal) comes unstuck as the inferior product used has brought them all into an inquiry. Enter the bureaucrat who is manipulated by the Minister to give false evidence. Petruzzi struts the small stage as a manipulating bully with a smile who believes it will be fine to lie. He has been in government and opposition for twenty years, it is his right to remain. How reminiscent it is –politicians over-staying their welcome believing the community loves them. So what’s wrong with a bit of shady dealing behind closed doors, what the people don’t know won’t hurt them. Delusion takes over from reality to win at all costs leaving the weak and honest to fend for themselves.
Scene II - two brothers who run the family-owned concreting business that supplied the ordinary – not super – concrete for the major tunnel build. We see the other side of male-dominated bullying. The younger brother (Houghton) is happy to supply second rate concrete and make a killing, the older brother aghast at the prospect at running the good name of the company set up by their father into the ground. Petruzzi plays the scene in a fluoro cover-all sweat suit – he’s trying to lose weight for his wedding. This is where Fennessy’s writing is so good: we have the connection of the corruption interspersed with family dynamics; pathos and humour give way to the power of the strongest.
The third scene takes place in prison where the lifer is being questioned after killing an inmate at the behest of a guard. Both aimed to make a lot of money from the dastardly deed. It’s another relationship based on manipulation and corruption: they need each other. Is it love or is it power? The guard wants out and the money from the hit would help him take his retirement. Houghton is chilling as the lifer who has other ideas in his manipulative control of the guard. He uses love and friendship as a weapon, oh and violence! Petruzzi’s stillness, fear and loss are palpable.
The two actors have been given a gift and they both relish their roles, taking us on a ghastly, irresistible journey.
Fennessy had his creative hands full with credits for playwright, director set and costume designer and hits each target.
This is a terrific beginning for Red Stitch’s 2017 season.