Silo Theatre, at the Herald Theatre
May 29-June 27 | Reviewed by Renee Liang (contains spoilers)

“WHEN YOU scratch the surface, is there just another surface beneath?” asks the tagline for The Scene. At first glance, the latest in a line of high-octane North American dramas brought to the Auckland stage by Silo is indeed glittery but shallow. It’s full of witty but inconsequential word play, attention-grabbing behaviour and satiric observations, all too familiar from imported TV. But like all good sitcoms, we are hooked despite ourselves. And right at the end, there’s the payoff.

Sophie Henderson is Clea, a shapely young blonde from Ohio who, armed with only the briefest of little black dresses and architectural heels, is on a mission. To find dumb rich men. And find them she does, the shape of Charlie (Stephen Lovatt) and Lewis (Edwin Wright). Well, at least they’re dumb, even if they’re not rich. When Charlie calls everyone else shallow, moronic and full of pretensions, he does not realise that that description best fits himself. He’s an actor who prefers to dwell on his past glories and blame everyone else except himself for his current unemployment. His wife Stella (Josephine Davison) is the stereotype of the high-flying career woman with feet of clay, who tries to insert meaning into her life with the adoption of a baby from China. Their apparently ‘rock-solid’ marriage of fourteen years is about to come crashing down.

The Scene could perhaps be seen as a female playwright’s dig at the fallibility (excuse the pun) of the male phallus. In more ways than one. Despite congratulating each other at spotting her ‘type’ and dismissing Clea as ‘an idiot, a joke’, Charlie and his best mate Lewis are no match for their libidinal impulses, nor, as it turns out, her gymnastic abilities in the sack. In one of the most startling post-interval restarts I have witnessed, Charlie is seen with his pants around his knees, desperately jack-hammering away despite growing fatigue. Lovatt is a fine physical comedian, his fumblings providing us with a shred of sympathy for Charlie. His physical contortions are well matched by the facial manglings of Davison, who, on discovering Charlie’s infidelity, goes through twenty different expressions before finally forcing out a “Why?” Wright is well cast as the hapless friend who everyone uses for their own needs yet is never allowed to indulge himself.

Wordlessness, it appears, is not a usual state for characters in a Resnick play. Charlie, Clea and Stella each have long and complex harangues to deliver, which are accomplished by these actors with bullet precision. Henderson in particular deserves admiration for delivering her lines with faultless timing while also keeping balance in those towering heels. It is Henderson’s character, seemingly the most shallow, who is consistently the most realistic. She of all the characters in the play knows exactly who she is and what she most wants in life. As she says, it’s all about the parties – and far from being a weapon of mass destruction, I’d say that she is a guided missile who hones in precisely on her targets. It’s nice to see an ingénue being portrayed as smart for once.

The set by John Parker easily evokes a minimalist apartment while surrounding the actors on three sides with audience. On the night I went, I sat on one of the sides, looking upwards at the stage. A minor quibble was that this position resulted in an obscured view some of the time (though not of the brevity of Henderson’s skirt), and some of the set changes (done mainly by the actors) was visible. However given that the play was about the human zoo, it was perhaps appropriate to be reminded that what we were watching was not, in fact, real.

As always, Silo has given us a stylish production, with a to-die-for set of product sponsors (Zambesi, Working Style, Kangnai shoes, Mac). Parker’s white set is enhanced by film noirish projections and neon lighting by Jeremy Fern.

And if this play is all about product and style, what then is the payoff? For me the key moment came near the end of the play, when Charlie – now fully ruined, homeless and craving all his addictions, especially Clea – finally realises that the life he’s been living, that all of us have been living, is not real after all. It’s but a shallow reflection of the life that could be grasped if we ignore all that surface glitter. And with that the lights in the house come on, New York disappears and we head out into the rainy Auckland night.