Tony McNamara, one of Australia’s rising commercial playwrights, follows up his 1997 hit play “The John Wayne Principal” with “The Recruit,” a crisply cynical piece about sports, male competitiveness, pop psychology and the cult of celebrity.The play follows two soccer agents, the attention-craving Josher (John Howard), a loathsome and educationally challenged egomaniac, and his seemingly stupid colleague Al (Christopher Stollery), who descend on the home of the simple but talented young player Stuey (Conrad Coleby) to recruit him for their club. Plans are complicated when they find that the week before Stuey’s brother Jimmy (Brendan Cowell) has committed suicide.
Where winning at any cost is the only consideration, the pair wager on who will be the first to sign up Stuey, while engaging in outrageous emotional manipulations to skirt the raw emotions of Ken (Drew Forsythe) and Meg (Genevieve Lemon), who are grieving over their son’s death.
While the characters are comically grotesque and shallow satirical caricatures (which, one supposes, is the point), show still packs a punch, thanks largely to the incredible aggression between the parents, brothers and the two recruiters. Josher’s fragile ego and Al’s submerged rage over his sports career being ruined by an injury (caused by Josher) are well explored. Lemon gives excellent delivery to some crackling lines, while Leeanna Walsman brings some depth to what could have been a hollow role as Josher’s TV model girlfriend.
Evocative music, expressive lighting and Genevieve Blanchett’s set aid play’s helmer, and Sydney Theater Co. artistic director Robyn Nevin gets her first season off to a snappy start. But the script’s seesawing between comedy and drama doesn’t always work, and the piece could benefit from more attention to the parents and children, who simply disappear at the most interesting points.