Jack of Hearts by David Williamson

 

Review by Carolyn Watts 

 

David Williamson’s most recent offering to Australian theatregoers is a fast paced comedy set on Sydney’s lower north shore. With a top-flight cast including two of ‘Chaser’ fame, the play is in equal parts amusing, confusing, and challenging.

We meet Jack (Chris Taylor) and Emma (Paige Gardiner), his personal trainer wife, in their apartment. Jack’s trying to be a helpful homebody while Emma’s keen for him to get a job—one that pays.

Like many ex-lawyers, Jack tired of his trade and, after a mini breakdown at work, packed it in. Unlike a lot of lawyers, Jack imagines his possible professional options to include cartooning, though he also sees shelf stacking as a stopgap.

Neither Jack nor Emma, nor any of the characters in this fast paced play are credible as ‘real world’ personalities, but the cast is excellent and their delivery of often excoriating comedic dialogue is faultless.

Williamson devotees will enjoy this, his fiftieth play; the full house at Ensemble Theatre in Neutral Bay gave the playwright/director a standing ovation at opening night this week.

It is primarily marriage and evolutionary pairing that undergo Williamson’s scrutiny and come up lacking in this play, though real estate agents, journalists, personal trainers and ‘bossy women’ all receive blowtorch descriptions in the snappy lines.

Stu (Craig Reucassel) is wonderful as the stereotypical philandering con artist/real estate agent whose method of holding on to the house and car is to promise children (screaming, farting midgets) to his beleaguered wife Denys (Brooke Satchwell), who’s clinging to her sham marriage in the hope of starting that family. Satchwell injects some depth into her character, even through her increasing attachment to drink.

Peter Mochrie’s portrayal of Carl, a sociopathic TV anchor, is faultless as he develops his character’s short trajectory from married, to abandoning then returning home to his wife and ‘troubled’ adult daughter. Isabella Tannock is hilarious as Stu’s latest squeeze, Nikki; her vigour making Nikki sassy, determined and over the top.

In this narrative that measures success in dollars and partners as prize possessions, Stu sees himself as an evolutionary prime target and Kelli (Christa Nicola) undercuts her potential through her Darwinian drive to mate for life in the interests of procreation. Meanwhile Jack is a flimflam man just waiting for any woman to select him as husband material.

We can thank Williamson not only for his biting satire but also for this reminder of the dissatisfactions of the convenient beige marriage.

 

Jack of Hearts is at The Ensemble, Kirribilli, until April 2.