JOE CALLERI REVIEWS: SAVAGES by Patricia Cornelius
See article in its original context here by Joe Calleri on his blog.
Full Disclosure – I attended the opening night of this production on a complimentary ticket as the guest of a media invitee.
While the line notes in the program do not make reference to it, Patricia Cornelius’s sweat and testosterone-fuelled play, Savages, is based on some of the people involved in, and events that surrounded, the tragic death in 2002 of 42-year old, Dianne Brimble, after she was administered a lethal dose of the date rape drug, GHB, by a group of eight men, during an ill-fated cruise on the ship, Pacific Sky.
In Savages, Cornelius’s four characters are a sub-species of middle-aged, suburban man, utterly incapable of forming either meaningful, or in fact, any relationships with women.
We first sight these four miscreants, George (Lyall Brooks), Runt (Luke Elliot), Rabbit (James O’Connell), and Craze (Mark Tregonning) as they slowly, menacingly emerge half naked from the darkened set like grotesque, misshapen monsters. Andy Turner’s moody lighting and Kelly Ryall’s deep, throbbing sound design, are among the many highlights of this production.
When we next see the four, it’s cheerful back slapping and high fives all round as they anxiously wait at the docks before embarking on a pleasure cruise of a life-time where each expresses a desire to either lose, re-discover, or re-invent themselves. Runt, for example, will no longer be short, while Rabbit intends to throw in his job as a motor mechanic.
Once aboard set designer Marg Horwell’s intelligently, efficiently designed ship deck, complete with tiny stateroom (which echoes the famous state room sequence in the Marx Brothers’ film, A Night At The Opera, and which offers the audience the play’s only genuinely comedic moments), the four quickly come to terms with cruise life, including how quickly boredom sets in once they have finished their strenuous physical work-outs and sunbathed.
The initial jocularity, bonhomie and excitement felt by the four regarding their prospects of “scoring” while on board, becomes subsumed by some unenlightened navel gazing and general observations about the disappointments of life, and in particular, their fraught, failed relationships with the opposite sex.
However, any flickers of sensitivity, humanity, compassion, or emotional intelligence displayed by the characters, including when Runt speaks lovingly of his mother, are short-lived before we are jolted back into a grimmer reality as George speaks of drowning his lover, Craze threatens to kidnap his children, Rabbit admits to not enjoying sex, and Runt expresses his general and palpable disgust of women, who are ugly pigs fit only for rutting.
Cornelius has incorporated into her dialogue some of the deeply disparaging comments that those accused of killing Brimble, in particular, Letterio Silvestri, made about her, during the course of police interviews.
While certain of the themes and dialogue become repetitive, and Cornelius’s narrative deliberately casts out a number of red herrings that are not resolved, these are relatively trivial complaints and easily forgivable when one enjoys the intense and committed acting of the four male actors, Susie Dee’s precise, tight as a drum directing, and the overall high quality of this production.
Cornelius’s and Dee’s Savages, is a nightmarish journey into, and exploration of, the very darkest heart of modern male masculinity and misogyny, that recognises no boundaries, no laws, and exposes the tragic outcomes when those men allow themselves to be reduced to the level of savage beasts capable only of acting on their most primitive, and physical urges.