Written in the long shadow of the September 11 attacks, Jane Bodie’s double-stranded drama distils societal fear, grief and trauma into interleaved scenes of two couples’ disintegration.
We meet white-collar couple Neil and Clea (Dominic Di Paolo and Rachel Slee) as they arrive home, some hours after a terrorist attack that has brought down a city building in the middle of the day. They are badly shaken by what they have seen.
Over the course of the play’s 90 minutes, we watch their relationship collapse as Neil withdraws from any form of intimacy, preferring instead to wander the streets making random connections with strangers – other people like himself.
Our first encounter with truck driver Scott and his girlfriend Michelle (Evan Peifke and Georgia Nicholas) is set a year after the attack. Poisoned by Scott’s controlling behaviour and violence, this relationship is at its end point. But Bodie unfolds their story in reverse, taking us back to their first encounter in an inner city bar in the minutes prior to the terrorist attack.
A Single Act is a demanding chamber piece, requiring its performers to begin at a high level of emotional intensity and then gently unwind. It requires precision and a measure of emotional daring.
But this production, directed by Travis McMahon (who knows the play backwards having acted in Malthouse Theatre’s staging in 2006) is monochromatic in terms of characterisation and, until it starts to finds its feet near the end of the play, unvaryingly glum.
The words are all there but there seems little connection between text, body and breath. Shows of heightened emotion appear forced or ring untrue as a result.
McMahon’s hard scene changes – marked with blackouts and an ominous sound effect – make for a choppy ride and every scene seems to start at zero.
There’s little to support the actors in this wide, black-curtained studio with an office-like drop ceiling that deadens the voice. Sound and lighting (Ethan Thomas) are fine but in terms of design, the production offers little.