REVIEW: Ruben Guthrie | Curtin Performance Studies and Hayman Theatre Company
Ruben Guthrie is complicated. He seems to have it all, a high-powered advertising career, a model for a fiancee, an apartment with views, but there are cracks in the foundation. His world quickly crumbles around him when his fiancee becomes fed up with his substance abuse and decides to return home to the Czech Republic. What happens next will shock you.
He finds himself in a twelve-step program, sponsored by a woman who becomes his live-in lover, his new fiancee, and then eventually his 13th step. His alcohol-and-drug-loving gay best friend returns from New York to test his willpower and patience. His father and mother are separated and pulling him in two different directions. His boss wants him to start drinking again in order to get his Mad Man mojo back. His ex-fiancee in the Czech Republic won’t return his calls.
And yet through all this, he maintains sobriety, until one day his ex-fiancee Zoya (Amy Johnston) arrives back home and discovers the new fiancee Virginia (Roisin Bevan) living there. His painstakingly reassembled life falls apart once again. This is a story about a man hitting rock bottom, with an emphasis on “rock,” given the inclusion of The Ruben Guthrie Band and a hefty sprinkling of live music throughout the show.
Ruben Guthrie, played by the charismatic Nathan Whitebrook, is manic at the top of the show, pushing his voice to the extreme more than is necessary for such a small theatre space. But soon he settles in and gives a fine, sympathetic performance, working well off each scene partner and keeping the audience well in his grasp. Some of the best scene work can be found between Whitebrook and Roisin Bevan; the two find interesting rhythms and dynamics together, and their relationship actually evolves on stage over the course of two hours.
There is also some fun tension and crackling humour between Whitebrook and Jarryd Dobson, who portrays Ruben Guthrie’s boss, Ray. Although the character is supposed to be a bit of a mentor/father figure to Ruben Guthrie, in this particular production because of their similar age range, Ray comes across as more of a challenger/competitor, but it works. Finally, the relationship between Ruben Guthrie and his returning best friend Damian, played by Sean Guastavino, is messy in more ways than one, and the two demonstrate the strange compulsion we sometimes have to stay with people who are really just no good for us in the end.
The Ruben Guthrie band accompanies the action, and one band member, George Ashforth, becomes part of the story as he steps into the action as Ruben Guthrie’s alcoholic father. The insertion of some blues, rock and country sits well within the structure of the play, and the band are perfectly balanced and add another level of cool to the production. The set (designed by Lauren Ross) looks really good, with faux 3D brick and a long shelf full of liquor across the back wall, evoking both a small bar and a loft apartment setting. The lighting design by Karen Cook also added to the cool ambiance, although there was a dark spot stage right in some scenes.
Director Mark Storen should be credited for his uncompromising vision with this piece, trusting his young actors to do the job with some very challenging material, and presenting a taut, professional production. It’s consistent with the cool vibe I’ve seen from his other work around town, and Curtin’s Performance Studies department should also be credited for having him on board to nurture an independent spirit among its students.