The competitive nature of male friendship is under the microscope in this year's offering from the elder statesman of Australian theater, David Williamson.

The competitive nature of male friendship is under the microscope in this year’s offering from the elder statesman of Australian theater, David Williamson.

Stepping off from Gore Vidal’s observation, “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies,” Williamson has constructed a drama around four former members of a rowing crew that won bronze at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

Jim (Gary Day) now is a wildly successful businessman desperate to receive a public honor, or “letters behind his name.” Dick (Tony Llewellyn-Jones) is an eminent surgeon who has taken some financial missteps but nevertheless has received an honor for his services as a surgeon. He now presides over the council that decides on future recipients. Stephen (Garry McDonald), the hippie, dropped out to write. His labors for 20 years have amounted to naught. Crew’s fourth member died of AIDS some time previously.

Jim and Dick are so bitterly competitive that they occasionally question whether they are in fact friends, before shrugging that male friendship is, by nature, competitive.

Recently remarried to his personal assistant, Jim is courting Dick’s support in his bid for an honor. Dick, who has been married to the same woman for 30 years and finds Jim’s remarriage a bit disgusting, uses the occasion to haul him over the coals for all his previous sins. These include his arrogance when they rowed together, bad investment advice that left Dick financially crippled and Jim’s refusal to help fund Stephen’s obviously hopeless bid to find a cure for his son’s cancer.

In his fourth decade writing for the mainstages of Australian theater, Williamson again proves a deft hand at tapping into the zeitgeist of the middle-class audience. “Amigos” resonates with the confidence of a scribe in familiar territory. His humor, which at its worst can sound tinny, is well integrated into this play.

The male actors shine in their portrayals of three richly drawn fiftysomethings. But despite being likable enough, Williamson’s women don’t come off so well.

Lines delivered by vet Wendy Hughes occasionally were left hanging, and STC tyro Natasha Elisabeth Beaumont struggled to create a three-dimensional character. The final scene of the first act, a childish, hysterical showdown between the wives, is one of Williamson’s weakest in some time.

The minimalist hydraulic set is commendable and the costumes, especially Beaumont’s, are refreshingly contemporary.

Amigos

Sydney Opera House Drama Theater; 544 seats; A$63 ($48) top

Production

A Sydney Theater Co. presentation of a play in two acts by David Williamson. Directed by Jennifer Flowers.

Creative

Sets, Michael Scott-Mitchell; costumes, Fiona Crombie; lighting, David Walters; music, Paul Charlier. Opened, reviewed April 8, 2004. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Cast

Jim - Gary Day Dick - Tony Llewellyn-Jones Stephen - Garry McDonald Hilary - Wendy Hughes Sophie - Natasha Elisabeth Beaumont
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