Odd Man Out
by David Williamson
Directed by Mark Kilmurry
Production photos by Clare Hawley
Ensemble Theatre until March 18
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CS
How often can you say that you have just seen one of the finest second acts in a play in the past thirty-seven years? It might not surprise you to know that it was written by Australia’s most prolific and celebrated playwright.
The world premiere of Odd Man Out has opened at the Ensemble Theatre, and it again shows that David Williamson is as fresh as he was when he penned The Removalists and Don’s Party in the early 1970s, and he now demonstrates even greater insight. Williamson was the first playwright to give Australian plays a truly Australian voice rather than the pseudo-English ones that prevailed.
Ryan, an intellectually brilliant quantum physicist who has turned his expertise to internet security, sees Alice, a physiotherapist, on a bus and starts to shower her with compliments. He persists in inviting her to dinner. Ryan projects an inordinate willingness to please and more than a hint of desperation, and Alice responds to his boyish charm and refreshing openness.
As the relationship evolves, Ryan’s honesty becomes aggressive and bombastic in social situations as well as in his communications with Alice. After they have lost the support of friends and her parents, Alice asks Ryan to be tested to find out if he is on the autism spectrum. There is some resistance, but Ryan’s eagerness to please her, and under the perceived threat of desertion, he agrees. As suspected, Ryan has Asperger’s Disorder (some might debate the use of the second word and prefer “Syndrome”) and Alice immediately leaps into “rescue mode”.
Williamson would have done quite a bit of research into all aspects of Asperger’s Syndrome from the perspectives of the person with it, their closest connections and society’s perception of people with the condition as well as the symptoms themselves. Apart from that, he needed to also research quantum physics for Ryan’s character.
This play is essentially a two-hander, and the supporting cast of Rachel Gordon, Bill Young, Gael Ballantyne and Matt Minto is solid in providing a reliable and complementary backdrop for the main duo.
As Ryan, Justin Stewart Cotta is required to play the balance between paranoia, the absolute, unshakeable certainty that accompanies his broad and deep knowledge, the vulnerability of past hurt and a willingness to please. Cotta is absolutely convincing when he takes us on his journey. The culmination of emotional extremes hits a crescendo in which every opening night audience member was entirely drawn in and wrought with emotion themselves. To be able to do that with experienced and often cynical theatre-goers is truly special. The last time I witnessed a reaction to that degree was at the Nimrod production of Alex Buzo’s Rooted in the 1970s.
As for Alice, Lisa Gormley is just superlative. The gamut of her emotions flows onto every audience member. What would we do in her flatties? In addition, Alice sometimes breaks the fourth wall to give us greater clarity. It’s not often that you can think about a production and be unable to imagine another actor in that role. Yes, Gormley owns the part.
Designer Anna Gardiner uses white cubes on the set, so the production is reliant on the script and the interpretation. No designer self-indulgence here.
The sense of anticipation surrounding a new Williamson work is always high, and Odd Man Out surpasses all expectations.
If you want to see this brilliantly written and presented production, book soon; I expect that the season will sell out quickly once the word gets out, and deservedly so.
In sportmen’s parlance, I give Odd Man Out 110%
Photo below: Ron Lee, Lisa Gorman and David Williamson