Friday, 4 February 2005

Pugilist Specialist by Adriano Shaplin, Red Stitch, Feb 4, 2005

Pugilist Specialist  by Adriano Shaplin  
 Red Stitch Actors Theatre
 Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel St, St. Kilda, Feb 4 until March 5, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

From America movies, we recognise the highly skilled US Marines, tough, no-holds-barred combatants.

Adriano Shaplin's play, Pugilist Specialist, eavesdrops on four Marines preparing for a "Black Op" in the Middle East.

The operation is an assassination of Big Stash, (Big Moustache) code named The Bearded Lady. It is obviously Sadaam Hussein.

The four characters are peak performance fighters.  Lieutenant Emma Stein (Kate Cole) is the Marines' poster girl, always sent for photo opportunities and promotion.

She is thorough, committed, feisty and is not usually sent on the secret missions known as Black Ops.

Lieutenant Studdard (Dion Mills) is a considered and controlled communications expert who, it is hinted, is a tough homosexual.

The third Soldier is Lieutenant Travis Freud, (Richard Cawthorne) a loud, foul-mouthed, sexist Southerner with a competitive streak.

He baits Stein with his chauvinism, taunts Studdard about his sexuality and challenges him to a hotdog-eating contest. Freud is machismo embodied and he obeys all orders.

Colonel Johns, (Kenneth Ransom) their commanding officer, is a demanding and challenging leader who, we suspect has a secret agenda.

Most of the play takes place during their preparations. We witness their first meeting when the three soldiers are still guessing at their upcoming mission.

When the Colonel finally briefs them they are surprised that their mission is an assassination. There is plenty of bravado, competition, rising tensions and verbal sparring.

What follows are secret meetings in which they argue about methods, weapons, communications devices and the timing and location of the kill.

All four actors are energetic and punchy in the roles. Shaplin's dialogue is smart, acerbic and rapid with the edginess and satirical quality of a New York comedy writer.

It is a very American play that does not resonate readily with the Australian sensibility.

The characters have unlikely but very entertaining arguments on philosophical points.

Greg Carroll directs the play with no on-stage physical action but the drama builds to the final scene, the proposed killing.

The stage is darkness except for pin lights attached to the actors' headsets.

This scene might be more effective if shouting had not obscured the tension. Also, the stated frisson of sexual tension between Freud and Stein was not visible.

The rhythm of the play is a little out of balance. The cuing is slow for dialogue written to snap and crackle.

Pugilist Specialist is a witty and vigorous representation of four dangerous fighting people.

By Kate Herbert

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