Circa Theatre
March 1-29 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

THE LIGHTS fade up on a young guy in stonewash jeans reading a Mario Puzo novel. He prowls restlessly around his modern apartment. This is Dennis Ziegler, an arrogant ‘trust fund baby’ in 1980s New York. The buzzer goes – it is his “friend” Warren Straub, another rich kid with low self esteem. He’s had a fight with his Dad, who’s kicked him out. In a moment of impulsive bravado he’s stolen $15,000 his father just happened to have lying about – for nefarious purposes no doubt. The rights or wrongs of stealing the money never really factor into Dennis and Warren’s conversations about the cash. Instead they debate what to do with it – finally settling on a plan that will entice Jessica, the object of Warren’s desire, over to Dennis’s apartment. The characters typify an era in which the young were encouraged to abandon values and loyalties in favour of getting ahead. They are selfish, aimless and confused.

In her casting director Rachel More has been inspired by reversing the type of role that Martyn Wood and Allan Henry usually play. Wood gets an opportunity to flesh out the tough guy Dennis, whilst Henry has to shelve his dominant physical stage presence as the awkward Warren. Both rise to the challenge, and the most interesting part of the play becomes watching the developing relationship friendship between these two – Lonergan keeps you guessing as to whether Ziegler is going to betray his friend, whether by appropriating the funds or betraying Warren’s presence in the flat to his father. Rachel Foreman, as Jessica, strikes a good balance as a girl with a solid family background trying to figure out the shallow world she socialises in. All manage, with minor slips, a Jewish New York accent convincingly.

Rather than try and build an entire room, set designer Brian King has settled on a few key pieces and details to evoke Ziegler’s flat. The glass table in the middle of the room which eventually gets used to cut up cocaine felt like an authentic period piece. Jen Lal keeps the lights neon bright to maintain the 80s feel and the soundtrack of 80s hits had me bopping in my seat.

What hasn’t made the transition so well is the script. Whilst the play is interesting enough, this is a story that hasn’t dated well. The themes of struggling with maturity, relationships and greed aren’t given a universal enough treatment for this play to continue to resonate. As a result the play feels a little like the table – an authentic and trendy period piece. It is great to watch young and talented actors tackle their roles with dedication, but ultimately the play is a little uninteresting. It has also been done a disservice by having an interval although I have been informed there is one written into the script, an interval was added late in the piece for this production). At the halfway point the plot simply hadn’t built to a point where I was eager to return for the second half. It would have been better to trim the script down to an hour and 20 or 30 minutes and just run straight through.

In all, if you are a huge fan of the 80s and its dominant themes and motifs then you will enjoy this play in all likelihood. However, I don’t think it has survived the shift into a new generation well, despite the best efforts of the cast and production team.