BATS Theatre
January 21-31 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

The Altruists throws an unlikely group together – a social worker, a rent boy, a ‘for rent’ activist, a soap opera actress and a lesbian activist who is organisationally challenged. A contrived and convoluted plot throws them together to resolve a moral conundrum. Will the more altruistically inclined be seduced into selfishness? What is more altruistic – the good of the greater group or the protection of the vulnerable individual? The play reveals that the seemingly altruistic can be just as self serving as the obviously selfish.

Brother and sister Ronald and Sydney are polar opposites on the altruistic spectrum – he is a social worker trying to triumph the plight of neglected children who is overly fond of the sound of his own voice; she is a narcissistic soap opera star, obsessed with her looks and material possessions. Sydney’s boyfriend is Ethan – an activist who is against whatever is flavour of the day (and Sydney is willing to fund). He’s having an affair with Cybill, a staunch lesbian activist who is itching to burst into slogan – if only she could remember what for. Rounding out the characters is Lance, a rent boy unwittingly brought home by Ronald, who then becomes his latest project.

The play tackles weighty subjects, such as what gives meaning to life, via glib one liners such as “Good work is exhausting.” and “You’re beautiful. What do you weigh?” The cast generally acquits their roles quite well, although Gareth Ruck, as Ronald, who it seems is meant to be the emotional core to the play, has a tendency to overact the role, leaving Leon Wadham, as Lance with little to work with. Wadham manages to portray a mix of nonchalance and desperate real need in his otherwise lightly drawn role. Desiree-Rose Cheer as Cybill is suitably staunch, while Mel Dodge has excellent timing in her delivery of Sydney’s ridiculous soap opera inspired lines. Ben Fransham as Ethan makes a sleazy activist and seems perfectly matched in selfishness to Sydney despite the disparity in their political views.

The play is well, if uncreatively staged on two beds and one rumpled mattress, representing the three different homes of Sydney, Ronald and Cybill. Aside from that the design elements do not stand out – in particular the lighting seemed hurriedly designed, with actors often unable to find their light. Director Gene Alexander could have made several scenes pacier, especially as the play draws to its climax. But ultimately there is not much to this play despite its subject matter.

For satire The Altruists is far too simple minded. It feels like a well conceived concept has been given a perfunctory treatment – perhaps attributable to Silver’s growing popularity. Despite the verbosity it’s far from clever. These characters may be shallow, but so is the parody of their liberalism.