26/5/12, National (Cottesloe)
Even three days later I could remember next to nothing about this, which was a shame. A four-hander (which turns rather clumsily into a five-hander just before the end -- always distrust a playwright who has to introduce a new character late in the play to drive the plot) it originated with Steppenwolf in Chicago, the same outfit that brought the outstanding August, Osage County to the National a couple of years ago.
This isn't in the same league. The characters aren't believable. The writing is stilted. The situation cliched. Respectable middle-class surbubanites invite the penniless young couple from next door round for a barbecue. It rapidly becomes clear that the penniless young couple are recovering drink and drug addicts, and slightly less rapidly that all is not well in the suburbanites' household: he has lost his job in a bank and spends all his time at home allegedly creating a website from which to run a one-man financial consultancy; she has a drink problem too and is barely holding it together.
It's a traverse production like the recent Moon on a Rainbow Shawl at this address, but the comparison does it no favours. That was a masterclass in wonderful close-up naturalistic acting. This is hammy and unconvincing (not the actors' fault: it's written this way, with elements of absurdist drama). The young couple's backstory is intriguing, I suppose. But there's a curious episode in which the two women go off to camp in the woods, determined to slough off the shackles of suburbia and get back to the simple life, only to get lost on the way and return, declaring they're afraid of bears. We learn this, as we learn much in this play, not so much from dialogue as from story-telling monologues, which frankly aren't convincing.
After the women's return proceedings degenerate into a boozy party in which all parties dance to loud music and snog one another (some members of the audience left at this point; others had gone earlier). Then the house burns down and collapses. In the following scene the young couple have done a runner and his uncle, who owned their house, turns up to fill in some details and reminisce about the time many years ago when this rundown suburb was a real community (supposedly) and offered its residents a dream existence.
First-class staging: not one but two smoking barbecues, an arson attack and the entire facade of a house crashing down onto what had been a green patio but becomes, during a blackout, a miniature version of a pitted Western Front.