'Don Parties On'

The politics may have changed, the lives of Don and friends can still be mined for plenty of humor.

Four decades later, this sequel to David Williamson’s seminal satire “Don’s Party” proves that, while the politics may have changed, the lives of Don and his friends can still be mined for plenty of humor and social observation.

Set on the 2009 election night, when Australia delivered a hung parliament, over 40 years have passed since Don (Garry McDonald) threw a party that ended in brawls and wife-swapping – yet many of the scars remain. These long-held grievances are slowly aired but there are plenty of new ones — such as Don leaving Kath (Tracy Mann) for one of his students, and his depiction of his friends, in a failed novel – to keep the knives twisting.

Adding to the drama is that Don’s granddaughter Belle (Georgia Flood) is staying with them because his son, Richard (Darren Gilshenan) has recently left his wife, so all the elements are in place for yet another memorable election night.

But Don’s get-togethers have never been just about the politics; instead, Williamson uses the characters to lay bare the suburban Aussie psyche and poke fun at our current political conservatism while never being preachy or patronizing. In this update, the characters, like the Labour party itself, are no longer as left-leaning and the social consciousness falls to Belle, who wastes little time in telling the ageing baby boomers that much of the planet’s problems, such as global warming, are their fault.

But Williamson is at his best when writing for the jaded boomers, whose language may have softened but whose barbs – skewering their various foibles – remain rock hard. Also, like the political parties they are watching, the idealism has largely been replaced by compromise, and how each person accepts that takes up much of the second act. Clangers are dropped, plates are once again thrown, but there is a sense that for most of Don’s compadres the fight has gone and is now left to the generations that follow – who have a few problems of their own to sort out.

Despite Cooley being on oxygen for his emphysema, thesp Frankie J. Holden is a scene-stealer from the moment he enters, while flinty Jenny (Sue Jones) is a bitter delight. And McDonald’s Don provides the calm center to the surrounding storm.

Dale Ferguson’s set is a stunner with a fabulous faded grandeur, a one-time picture perfect home that now has its best days behind it. The same cannot be said for Williamson who proves that, in his fortieth year as a playwright and after threats of retirement, it is the theater’s gain that he has decided to party on.

Don Parties On

Playhouse Theater, Victorian Arts Center, Melbourne, Australia; 880 seats; A$97 $95.90 top

Production

The Melbourne Theater Company production of a play in two acts by David Williamson. Directed by Robyn Nevin.

Creative

Set, Dale Ferguson; costumes, Jennifer Irwin lighting, Matt Scott; sound, Russell Goldsmith; assistant director, Ben Winspear. Opened, reviewed Jan. 13, 2011. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast

Don - Garry McDonald
Kath - Tracy Mann
Mal - Robert Grubb
Cooley - Frankie J. Holden
Helen - Diane Craig
Richard - Darren Gilshenan
Belle - Georgia Flood
Jenny - Sue Jones
Roberta - Nikki Shiels

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