Wednesday, 24 February 1999

The Talented Mr Ripley, 24 Feb 1999

 by Phyllis Nagy
 MTC at Fairfax Studio, Feb 24 until March 27, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Tom Ripley is the quintessential psychopathic anti-hero. He appears to be normal but there lurks beneath his stylish, well-mannered veneer, a heartless, egoistic villain.

David Tredinnick (OK) is a cool, wry, petulant and dangerous Ripley in this MTC production of The Talented Mr. Ripley which was adapted by London-based US playwright, Phyllis Nagy, from Patricia Highsmith's novel (1955). Tredinnick may not have the suave sophistication of Alain Delon who portrayed Highsmith's"perfect Ripley" in the1961 film, but he has an oily, menacing quality that works.

Ripley features in five works of fiction by Highsmith who wrote Strangers on a Train, the inspiration for Hitchcock's movie. In this first manifestation he is an amoral, penurious, fraudulent, compulsive liar and unrepentant murderer.

Although Nagy employs theatrical structures, the play feels like a novel on stage with extensive narration and long, linear narrative to convey in 150 minutes.

Ripley diddles the IRS, leaving an innocent friend embroiled in the fraud. He dupes a Park Avenue couple ( Kerry Walker, Frank Gallacher) into believing he knows their dilettante son, Richard (Matthew Dyktynski), and embarks on his anti-hero's journey to Italy where he inveigles his way into Richard's life, home and eventually, his family and inheritance.

The ensemble, performing multiple roles, is excellent. Walker is exceptional and compelling as the dying Park Avenue dowager, the only character who elicits any amount of sympathy. Torquil Neilson, as various Italians, is hilarious and Gallacher is commanding as the New York shipbuilding patriarch.

Dyktynski, Lucy Taylor and Michael Robinson provide strong support. Roger Hodgman keeps the action moving on Tony Tripp's statuesque design that features the silhouette of Ripley's head. Jamieson Lewis's lighting is dramatic and music by Paul Grabowsky evocative but sometimes intrusive.

Most problems lie with Nagy's text. An adaptation must leap from prose to theatrical language. In part, Nagy has done this. However, large tracts of the play stall in self-narration and the second act flags with too much plot to manage on stage. Everything escalates to a rapid ending far too swiftly.

There is little, if any, sub-text and few likeable characters. The text has few surprises and we cannot even care about those who get ripped off or killed. This kind of thriller may be better served by the impending US film although Matt Damon as Ripley defies rationality. Ah, Hollywood!

K Herbert

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