Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Ruben Guthrie ***1/2

Ruben Guthrie by Brendan Cowell, Red Stitch Actors Theatre
 Rear 2 Chapel St., St Kilda Feb 8 to March 5, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 8, 2011
Stars: ***1/2

The stage is a dangerous place in Brendan Cowell’s play, Ruben Guthrie. As Ruben, Daniel Frederiksen is a totally out of control drunk, so all the danger is in the bottle – or, rather, bottles – that surround him, imprisoning him in a world of expensive and deadly booze.

Ruben Guthrie is the Creative Director and golden boy for a slick advertising agency. He fuels his fertile imagination and compelling ad campaigns with grog, recreational drugs and ego. When his young, glamorous partner, Zoya (Anna Samson) dumps him because of his boozing benders, Ruben is forced to confront his addictions and assess whether his talent lies only at the bottom of an empty vodka glass.

At intervals, Frederiksen addresses us directly as his Alcoholics Anonymous group. We stagger with him through his Twelve Steps. We witness his appalling behaviour toward Zoya and the next lover, Virginia (Erin Dewar), a scrambled, recovering addict. We listen to the horror stories of his drunken escapades leaping from a roof or strangling a stranger. We observe the pious, psycho-babble that accompanies such recoveries.

Cowell’s writing is audacious, contemporary, hard-edged and fast-talking. The dialogue is well-observed, shifting from bold and funny to moving and sensitive. The structure follows Ruben’s recovery period, taking us along on his dizzying rollercoaster ride. The second half becomes a little unwieldy, with too many characters and some awkward, abstract scenes during Ruben’s relapse into booze.

However, the social observations are incisive, facing addiction in the affluent, commercial world rather than on a grimy street. Frederiksen is compelling as Ruben, managing to be both charming and repellent and a talented cast supports him.

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