A magnificent play, performed by three highly talented, passionate actors.
When he was a small boy, playwright Caleb Lewis once caught his Dad weeping in the garage. It was something he’d never seen before – the man who was the family’s backbone falling apart, because life and then his emotions had got the better of him.
Years later, Craig Davidson’s collection of short stories, Rust and Bone struck a deep chord with Lewis; each male protagonist had something in common with that vulnerable man he’d seen. All of them were skilled at catching the curveballs life threw at them; but deeply buried insecurities began to emerge as they were challenged by events in their lives.
This reviewer had already read Davidson’s book, hence a fascination with seeing whether it would translate effectively to the stage. Lewis is an award-winning playwright, and he proved his skill in this production, which brought three of the stories to life in a minimalist, gut-punching 70 minutes.
Three stories, three actors, but many more characters. Wade Briggs, Renato Musolino, and Sam Smith play the three leading roles, but also all the minor characters – including women.
Briggs initiated the evening as Ben, a trainer at Seaworld whose story begins with a ghastly accident when a killer whale tears his leg off in front of a packed audience. Without props or flashy costumes, it was the sheer power of the words and Briggs’ intensity that kept everyone in the theatre captivated, frozen in shock and anticipation from the first line. From here we followed Ben dealing with a prosthetic leg, and fighting his own internal demons after his life had changed forever.
Musolino plays James, a man who breeds dogs for fighting, with an obvious personal weakness he uses the sport to compensate for. His wife Alison is his lifeline, and Briggs plays her convincingly – a big surprise, since moments ago he was a womanizer giving girls whose names he doesn’t care to remember, scores out of ten.
Sam Smith is Eddie, an introvert who boxes for a living. Over the years he refines his technique, and learns about himself and his relationships alongside it; interestingly, the better he gets at fighting, the more sensitive he becomes as a person. Such a masculine role once again set the audience up for a big shock when he flicked and became Ben’s pert mother, a palliative care nurse desensitised to pain but still smothering her son.
The three stories are woven together, moving constantly between each other, evolving and building until they eventually converge in a crescendo of heightened emotional tension.
Both Davidson and Lewis frame the male psyche as a complicated creature with many layers and strengths. Events, environment and the people around them either cut layers away or add to them, harden them; in the end what plays out is the lives of three human beings, no better or worse than another, and with no harsher judge than themselves.
There wasn’t one bit of whispering or fidgeting in the audience on the night this reviewer attended; every person appeared unable to tear their eyes away from the stage.
Rust and Bone is a magnificent play, performed by three highly talented, passionate actors. This is the kind of show that illustrates the unique, incredibly special gift of live performance. No film, television show or YouTube clip will ever compare or deliver anything near this. It’s far too dark to use the word ‘entertainment’, but for the strong hearted, it’s a highly recommended evening of intensity.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Stories Like These and Griffin Independent present
Rust and Bone
By Caleb Lewis
Based on the short story collection by Craig Davidson
Director: Corey McMahon
Assistant Director: Sanja Simic
Set and Costume Designer: Michael Hankin
Lighting Designer: Teegan Lee
Composer and Sound Designer: Nate Edmondson
Cast: Wade Briggs, Renato Musolino and Sam Smith
SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross
12 January – 2 February