'Zebra!'

What promises to be an examination of who we are in the fallout from the global credit crisis emerges as a very personal affair in Ross Mueller's new play, "Zebra!"

What promises to be an examination of who we are in the fallout from the global credit crisis emerges as a very personal affair in Ross Mueller’s new play, “Zebra!” — and is no less entertaining for it. Perfs are stellar and the dialogue crackles, but the dramatic tension is perhaps not as tightly wound as it could be given the potential of the set-up.

Larry (Colin Friels) walks into a New York Irish bar ready to meet his new son-in-law. A millionaire who has managed to weather the current financial storm, Larry yearns to take the young go-getter under his paternal wing. Instead he ends up talking to Jimmy (Bryan Brown) who, like Larry, is in his fifties, an Aussie grifter who “could find the angles on a ruler.”

The pair trade banter and it takes a while for the penny to drop, but once Larry realizes that this is the man who plans to marry his daughter, the predictable alpha-male contest ensues.

The title comes from the mating habits of zebra where a young buck must defeat the father to secure his mate. But neither Larry – cushioned by his wealth and estranged from his daughter – nor Jimmy – a Teflon-coated chancer who seems untroubled by his current financial woes – really allow it to be become the “Animal Planet”-style prize fight it threatens to be.

Tending bar through this whole affair is Robinson (Nadine Garner) a feisty Gen Xer with problems of her own; the bar is on its last legs after her husband committed suicide and Larry’s affections may provide her with a financial and emotional lifeline. That this relationship holds its own amongst the alpha-male bravado is testimony not only to the well-balanced script but to Garner’s performance of worn-down dignity, with a confident bar-maid strut that always seems on the cusp of dissolution. Brown, as the Aussie intruder, is laconic, brash and impulsive, prowling the stage more like lion than zebra, but lacking the vulnerability that would have raised the stakes in this bar-room barter session. Friels also lacks any real sense of self-doubt, so his crown never really feels at risk, though his perf is energetic and engaging. But the cut-throat barbs from Mueller come thicker than a pint of Guinness and the thesps’ delight in delivering them is infectious.

David McKay’s set is realistic enough to make you thirsty, his ephemera-packed boozer a warm and welcoming vantage point from which to watch the animal antics unfold.

Zebra!

Wharf 1, Sydney, 324 seats; $77 top

Production

A Sydney Theater Company production of a play in one act by Ross Mueller. Directed by Lee Lewis.

Creative

Set, David McKay; costumes, Julie Lynch; lighting Damien Cooper; sound and music, Paul Charlier; audio visual design, Shane Johnson; fight director, Scott Witt. Opened, reviewed Mar. 10, 2011. Running time: 1 HOUR 45 MIN.

Cast

Jimmy - Bryan Brown
Larry - Colin Friels
Robinson - Nadine Gardner
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