This splendidly mounted revival of “Don’s Party,” the 1971 ground-breaking modern classic by Australia’s preeminent playwright, David Williamson, not only raises many laughs but alerts auds to certain harsh truths about the national character. The satiric jibes so savagely delivered in this raucous account of a 1969 Election Night social gathering continue to sting like the hangovers presumably suffered the next day by most of its characters.
Indeed, right at the start, hostess Kath (the engaging Mandy McElhinney) observes to her laconic husband, Don (rangy and likable Steve Le Marquand), that the eponymous event, planned around the likelihood of a victory for the left-leaning Labor Party, is really “just an excuse for a booze-up.”
And as the predominantly Labor-voting guests arrive, and occasionally cluster around the TV to watch the results being broadcast live, the alcohol flows freely. So, too, do the boisterous conversation and salacious gossip, delivered by a sometimes ghastly gallery of sexually permissive, all-too-human types.
Representative of the then-burgeoning “university-educated suburbanites,” Williamson’s deftly sketched behavioral canvas covers a veritable gamut. The Breughel-like spread takes in everything from a maritally rejected voyeur (Travis McMahon’s endearing, hopeless Mack) to a rapacious lawyer (Rhys Muldoon’s scene-stealing Cooley) to housewifely despair (Alison Whyte’s embittered Jenny) and teenage nymphetry (nicely rendered by mini-skirted Jacinta Stapleton).
All (including Labor’s electoral chances) ends in tears, trashed food platters, romantic bust-ups, outbursts of almost-baroque profanity and brutally exposed delusions. If Ben Jonson rewrote “The Ice Storm,” or George Bernard Shaw collaborated with Edward Albee on a late-1960s drawing-room comedy, it might approach this work’s brilliantly tailored, viciously witty, unflinchingly perceptive impact.
Williamson’s bravura use of Aussie idiom remains equally forceful, resulting not just in astonishing verbal play with the “f” and “c” words, but at least one memorable milking of that all-purpose euphemism: “fine.”
Complementing the colorful dialogue is Dale Ferguson’s fabulous kitchen-plus-living room set design, which hilariously incorporates the orange-vinyled, formica-topped, mock-wood-grained textures of a mercifully bygone era.
Thirty-five years on, this still-timely piece offers all-too-telling insights into the often amusing but dark aspects of middle-class life Down Under. A co-prod between the Melbourne and Sydney Theater Companies, this is a party worth attending.