Review: Odd Man Out (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembleVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jan 19 – March 18, 2017
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Gael Ballantyne, Justin Stewart Cotta, Rachel Gordon, Lisa Gormley, Matt Minto, Bill Young
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Alice and Ryan meet on a bus, and are quickly drawn to each other. They have little in common, except for a shared desperation to become coupled up. Alice is sensitive about her biological clock running out of time, and Ryan is fearful of loneliness. They work hard to create a union, and in Odd Man Out, it seems tough grind is the key to success.

Marriage happens hastily for the pair. Ryan has never said “I love you” back to Alice, and proves himself embarrassing and humiliating in every social situation, but Alice decides to marry him anyway. No surprises then, that the husband turns out a disappointment. It is true, in David Williamson’s world of intractable heteronormativity, that women get into relationships to change men, while men hope for women in their lives to never grow.

We never really believe the Alice character. Maybe it is her severe lack of judgement that betrays the credibility of the narrative, or maybe, we are simply very tired of stupid girls in our stories. Turns out the “odd man out” here, could actually be a rather strange woman. Actor Lisa Gormley’s extraordinarily animated style may not have made things any better, but her conviction in spite of the playwright’s flawed imagination, is impressive. Her work is entertaining, and her aforementioned exuberance, does provide effective distraction from the play’s implausibilities.

Played by Justin Stewart Cotta, Ryan is a much more detailed and authentic personality who helps provide necessary grounding to Odd Man Out. Cotta turns in a spectacular performance, intelligent and thorough in his approach, for an interpretation that is immensely engaging and amusing, while retaining a solid amount of insightful nuance. Whether wildly rhapsodic or sensitive and quiet, Cotta provides the production with excellent layers of depth and clarity, giving the show a meaningful sense of purpose.

Mark Kilmurry’s direction of the piece is spirited and taut. The show has a vigorous energy aided by inventive use of a small chorus of actors, introduced into scenes of otherwise structurally simple dialogue. Sound design by Alistair Wallace is similarly effective in manufacturing a sense of motion and progression, for an urgency that helps us stay captivated.

The play ends abruptly, and awkwardly, with a fairy-tale conclusion that reveals a human need for hope, however misplaced it may be. Odd Man Out is fundamentally romantic, even if it is rarely sweet or poetic. Against all odds, we will dream up a way to make love happen, and that, is the essence of a life well lived.

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