Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 9 – Sep 10, 2016
Playwright: Richard Bean (based on the film by Jonathan Katz, David Mamet)
Director: Louise Fischer
Cast: Ben Brock, Hannah Day, Cheyne Fynn, Charles Jones, Mark Langham, Rebecca Levy, Colin McCarlie, Katherine Shearer, Benjamin Vickers, Cindy Wang
Image by Bob Seary
House Of Games features a psychiatrist and a group of con artists. It wishes to be full of surprises and unexpected twists, but the unsophisticated writing relies on the unbelievable gullibility of its protagonist, as well as a gullible audience, for any of its plot to be effective. Its premise is interesting, with a straitlaced academic type finding herself embroiled in the underground activities of the Chicago lowlife, but there could not be a more predictable way to tell the story. Every revelation aims to deliver thrills, but is only disappointing in its failure to offer anything more than what is obviously anticipated ahead of every juncture.
Leading lady Katherine Shearer shows good conviction, in spite of a frankly ridiculous role that seems to take pleasure in depicting a woman’s status and accomplishments as an esteemed doctor, only to take her down more than a few notches by turning her suddenly, and unreasonably, stupid and naive. The actor’s impressive presence almost holds the show together, but we struggle to reconcile her character Margaret’s undeniable intelligence with the absurd predicament in which she finds herself. Co-star Ben Brock displays enough charm for initial scenes of flirtation to work, but to make Margaret “blinded by love” and be so thoroughly entangled in his deceptions, is a tall order that is beyond any sensible performance.
Names of three male writers are attached to this play. It is arduous, and deeply boring, to take them to task for a misogynist creation, but the show offers little else worthy of discussion. It is to their credit however, that the driving force behind House Of Games is Margaret’s ambitions, but it seems that diminishing those very desires is the only way to make sense of things. Feminist readings do not require that every woman comes out on top, but the masochistic treatment of “a strong female” here is reprehensible, because her degradation results from weak logic and too little plausibility, a figment of the imagination of a boys’ club, intimated, perturbed and panicked.