Andrew Upton’s debut script, as realized by Sydney Theater Co. artistic director Robyn Nevin, is solid but without sparkle. “Hanging Man” explores themes reminiscent of Hannie Rayson’s recent “Life After George” and David Williamson’s “Up for Grabs” — how the living cope with the death of a matriarch or patriarch, and Machiavellian art dealers.
Two brothers are mourning their mother’s death, while their younger half-brother attempts to safeguard the collection of canvases painted by their deceased father. Thomas, an art dealer, is poised to clinch a deal on the very painting little brother Robert wants to protect. The other brother, Scott, is a drunk who speaks the truth — occasionally to good dramatic effect. Unacknowledged grief of Thomas, Scott and Thomas’ wife Linda is manifested in long circular speeches. Linda’s grieving for the children she never had.
Casting Tiriel Mora — the real-life son of legendary Melbourne painter Mirka Mora and brother to art dealer William Mora — as the laconic drunk was inspired. As the art buyer, Helen Dallimore occasionally seemed to be repeating the art dealer role she played last year in “Up for Grabs.”
Play was commissioned by Nevin after Upton adapted “Don Juan” and “Cyrano de Bergerac” for the company. It was extensively reworked before and during rehearsals.
As a result, Upton’s interesting thesis on how Australia dumbs down its culture for international export to the U.S. appears to have been shelved in favor of a family drama that doesn’t really make sense.
The second act wandered, the long speeches were tedious and the actors failed to own their dialogue.
Maybe outside the pressure cooker of Australia’s highest profile theater company, Upton’s play would have fared better. Then again, much of the excess publicity surrounding the production would travel with him: Upton’s wife, Cate Blanchett, would draw paparazzi to any theater door.