David Williamson perceives himself as an Australian dramatist seeking primarily to entertain as he reflects on contemporary behavior. His critics prefer to dig deeper, focusing on weighty social and moral issues. Like British counterpart Alan Ayckbourn, Williamson has become his country’s most popular playwright not just through “a talent to amuse” but also by affording audiences a second — if occasionally superficial — look at themselves.
He based his last play, “Money and Friends,” on a late 1990s reaction to the “greed is good” decade by posing a disturbing hypothesis: How would you respond to a friend’s financial disaster? This obviously translated well enough across the Pacific to tweak collective psyches successfully in Los Angeles, where it ran recently.
By that yardstick “Brilliant Lies,” with its theme of sexual harassment in the workplace, should have global appeal. Susy (Miranda Otto), a young office worker, has accused her gung-ho boss Gary (Chris Betts) of prolonged harassment culminating in a clumsy piece of physical molestation. She takes the case to an arbitrator under Australia’s Equal Opportunity Act, demanding $ 40,000 compensation.
The protagonists seem crudely defined at first, their conflict over-simplified, but Williamson is deliberately snaring us in our own gender prejudices. Susy’s clothes are bright and clingingly provocative; her behavior selfish, promiscuous and manipulative.
Gary, an aggressive, macho stereotype with an oversupply of testosterone, has a reputation for forcing himself onto a succession of female employees.
Who is to be believed? It is up to the arbitrator, Marion (Christine Amor), to decide. Williamson muddies the water further by complicating the nature of the combatants’ relationship, and by revealing through sister Katy (Genevieve Lemon) that Susy is a compulsive liar, and that their father, Brian (Ray Barrett) also has much to answer for.
Director Mellor achieves a satisfying resolution after a sequence of rapid scenes involving disciplined movements around the green-partitioned set. The veteran Barrett commands the stage in his all-too-brief appearances, while Lemon and Otto are convincing as sisters with different sexual preferences.