Red Stitch, The Actors’ Theatre, St Kilda
23 November to 18 December
By Dina Ross
Ross Mueller’s A Simple Act of Kindness was developed under Red Stitch’s INK program for new writing and will probably emerge as one of the company’s biggest hits of 2022.
This frothy farce bubbles like Christmas champagne. Taking aim at the property market, family life and the stresses of lockdown, it’s a comedy for our times, witty, wickedly cynical yet heart-warming, all in the space of 110 fast-paced minutes.
It’s 2020. Sophia (Lou Wall) desperately wants to enter the property market, but like thousands of Gen Z, can’t afford a mortgage. She tricks her Boomer parents into lending her the money by claiming she’s about to get married. But her ‘fiancé’ Greg (Khisraw Jones-Shukoor) is actually her gay best friend. The young couple move into their dream home – a tiny two bedroom in the Western suburbs. Meanwhile, Sophia’s father, Tony (Joe Petruzzi) has made one bad business deal too many. When his world comes crashing down and he’s forced to sell the family home, there’s only one thing for it: Tony and his wife Julie (Sarah Sutherland) must move in with Sophia and Greg.
And then the pandemic hits. Will the quartet play happy families? Not on your life.
Mueller’s rapier wit skewers the pretentions of aspirational Australia, Baby Boomers’ sense of superiority and Millennials’sense of entitlement, while evoking the claustrophobia and angst caused by extended periods of lockdown. Dressed in pyjamas during their working day, miserably huddled together with no space to move, the family squabbles and squawks. Parents behave like spoilt children, children think up dastardly plots to be rid of them.
Yes, it’s over the top at times and often ridiculous, but great fun. This is a triumph of great ensemble acting under Peter Houghton’s inspired direction. The actors, who are clearly having the time of their lives, ham it up with relish. Sarah Sutherland, a contemporary and cashmered Mrs Malaprop, almost steals the show as Julie, who decides to take up politics and stand as an independent candidate (“I have no policies”), under the slogan “Strap On For Stonnington”. Joe Petruzzi ‘s beleaguered father, reduced to playing video games as his financial empire crumbles, shows just the right amount of ingratiating sleaze. Jones-Shukoor is a delicious Greg, and his efforts to appear straight in front of his ‘in-laws’ are beautifully judged. Lou Wall is the (frequently shrill and panicked) voice of reason, trying to keep the world order together amidst internal and external chaos.
Jacob Battista and Sophie Woodward have built a stark white set that traps the quartet in a small-roomed prison. Maybe the crack that appears in the concrete floor is overly symbolic of family rifts, but I’m not going to nit-pick. Grab a ticket fast: this one will run and run.
23 November to 18 December
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About the Author
Dina Ross is an arts reviewer, broadcaster and feature writer. Her work has appeared in The Age, Herald Sun, Australian Book Review and Good Reading. She hosted the book program ‘Page Turners’ on 3MBS FM and curated a series of short story readings, ‘Shorts at 45’ at fortyfivedownstairs.
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