RHINESTONE REX AND MISS MONICA (2023)
RHINESTONE REX AND MISS MONICA (2023 version) Ensemble Theatre, 10 March-29 April 2023. Photography by Prudence Upton
A lot happened in 2010. We struggled to pronounce “Eyjafjallajökull” when Iceland’s volcano blew its stack. Monica Maughan died. Wikileaks revealed US atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Spain won the World Cup. Swine Flu (H1N1) caused a stir – LOL. Pope Benedict made Mary Mackillop a saint. Rudd to Gillard, check but not mate. The Matildas won the World Twenty20, the men did not.
And Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica opened at the Ensemble. It was David Williamson’s 45th play and, unusually, it was a two-hander rom-com. It was very popular with audiences, and now it’s back.
How the world has changed in thirteen years, including the black hole of the past three. And how welcome is a classic rom-com with a couple of wacky characters when the joke of the day is about Australia declaring war on China in 45 years' time. It’s also welcome – and possibly unique after such an interval – to have the original actors, Georgie Parker and Glenn Hazeldine, reprise their roles. What have the years done to them and to the play? Has it dated? Do the more… um… mature Monica and Rex (Gary) still work as two utterly unsuited people getting together after an evening’s entertaining bickering?
The answers are: no, it hasn’t dated. And Parker and Hazeldine now occupy their roles as stitched-up classical violinist and rough-as-guts tradie-cum-C&W fan with ease and hilarity. Possibly because they’ve both done a lot of living in the interim, as have we all, there is now a deeper aspect to the characters. Where once there were broad guffaws and chucklesome one-liners, there is now heart and pathos.
On a finely detailed, well-worked out set (and costumes) by Veronique Benett, with similar lighting (Trudy Dalgliesh), director Mark Kilmurry has realised a tight production in which the actors are at credible ease as they vehemently disagree over Mahler and Beccy Cole. (Terrific sound design by Daryl Wallis.) And, in 2023, wrangling over the relative merits of a stainless steel or porcelain kitchen sink seems even more plausible when home improvements and the impossibility of finding a halfway competent tradesman have become major preoccupations. The introspection and self-awareness brought on by the global pandemic and attendant lockdowns, fears, and sadnesses somehow intensify the fragility of Monica’s predicament, while Gary’s insecurities and superficial bravado ring truer.
Disclosure: in 2010 I wrote on Stagenoise that the play would benefit from “a little pruning … to excise some clumsy exposition, out-of-place lecturing, and hectoring …” Within hours an email arrived from the playwright asking where it should be cut. After swallowing my tonsils I realised that I had to put my money where my mouth was. I wrote back asking for a copy of the script, and I’d make the cuts.
A script attachment promptly arrived (Friday). I spent that night quaking then, on Saturday morning, pulled myself together and got to work. On Sunday it was sent back – after I’d also had the temerity to tickle up a few punch lines that seemed a bit feeble. On Monday a note came back from the playwright thanking me for what I’d done – including the punch lines which he too had thought could be improved.
Now, in 2023, I’m dead chuffed to read in the writer’s program notes, “Also, thanks to that enduring princess of theatre Diana Simmonds for suggesting some good edits to the original version which I've incorporated into this one.”
NB: my tiny part in the career of Australia’s most successful living playwright has absolutely nothing to do with how much I enjoyed the hour and a half of laughter and poignant truths in the company of a most appealing odd couple. Hazeldine is now the more overt comic character – with a penchant for telling porkies that’s up to the minute in our current political climate. Parker, on the other hand, has abandoned conspicuous comedy in favour of a gutsy frailty that’s all today – including the most subtle, hilarious, and scarily recognisable drunk scene ever. Recommended.