This Moment in Time, a short play about a chance encounter at an airport, written by Alistair Ward and directed by Mashaka Gunnulson, looks humble in advertisements, but is in fact the most touching work of theatre I’ve seen this year.
A plane is delayed. Sam (Ruby Vadiveloo), a visual artist flying home to New York after an obligatory trip to see her family in Melbourne, stares into space in the lounge. Soon she is approached by Theo (Alistair Ward), a sweet-natured guy seeking distance from the messy end of a ‘situationship,’ and eager to connect with strangers as part of his new self-care regime. Sam, aloof and sarcastic, is not the easiest person for this pursuit.
But because they are ‘too far in to completely ignore each other’, as Theo aptly puts it during one of the play’s soliloquies, the two uphold a roving, kind of awkward, mutually revealing conversation while waiting to board their flight. Both in their late 20s, they find they are united in a dawning sense of life’s harshness, but are handling it in nearly opposite ways.
Sam, we learn, can hardly bear to communicate about her stymied ambitions and troubled long-term relationship, preferring the safety of a cool façade. Theo is transparent, patient, intent on keeping his head up through therapy and – to Sam’s disgust – Brené Brown books and the remedial power of crystals.
The comedy of contrast, and its capacity to dislodge one slightly from a stubborn outlook, is the beating heart of the show.
Vadiveloo is hypnotic as Sam, bringing further nuance to just about every beat of the script. As the character slowly opens up to Theo she crosses and uncrosses her arms, squints with cynicism, sighs, shrugs, betrays slivers of amusement, nods resignedly, widens her faraway eyes as if apprehending a tidal-wave of intricate pain. She seems layered and legitimate, not purely a mascot for millennial ennui, which strikes me as one tribute to This Moment in Time’s harnessing of a truth that we might only feel in flickers these days.
Too soon, a boarding announcement sounds – I could watch another hour of Sam and Theo just talking – and their meeting concludes in a wholesome way, its predictability redeemed by a bold joke and the fact that Sam still won’t have a bar of Theo’s faith in astrology. They exchange Instagram accounts.
This Moment in Time is a remarkably lifelike show, its characters’ give-and-take retaining a balance between triviality and profundity that any of us – regardless of generation – will recognise. See it with friends and enjoy unpacking it, and sharing stories similar to it, long after it is over.
This Moment in Time
The Butterfly Club, Melbourne
Writer: Alistair Ward
Director: Mashaka Gunnulson
Sound and Lighting Design: Jasmine Tolentino (she/her)
Photography:Edward Broadbent (he/him)
Graphics: Louise Walker (she/her)
Cast: Ruby Vadiveloo, Alistair Ward
This Moment in Time will be performed until 10 December 2022.