What a great premise for drama: A cabbie learns he’s dying of cancer and makes a snap decision to leave the frontier town where he’s lived his entire life and drive 3,000 kilometers through the Australian Outback to Darwin, where a doctor has successfully campaigned to decriminalize euthanasia.
The true story of Max Bell, who unwittingly became a media sensation, inspired scribe Reg Cribbs and director Jeremy Sims to head into the Outback and write a fictional version of his adventure. They set out from Bell’s hometown of Broken Hill, an actual mining town with a name that speaks of missed opportunities and shattered dreams.
The play about Max’s trip through Australia’s arid heart turns up some terrific characters and unlikely encounters — “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” minus the camp gags.
Australian men, however, especially weather-beaten characters like Max, are difficult to portray onstage. Ray Lawler’s Roo and Barney in the well-known Australian play “Summer of the Seventeenth Doll,” seem to be Cribb’s prototypes; however, in contrast to their rich, inarticulate silences, Max chatters endlessly. It’s annoying and, after three hours, so is Barry Otto, never an actor of great range.
There’s much going on: The media latches onto Max’s plight and chases him; he walks into a town competing to win the weird National Tidy Town championship; his friends, including a morally upright aboriginal woman, variously approve and disapprove of his decision.
“Last Cab to Darwin” contains some wonderful stuff, with nice perfs, especially from Justine Saunders. This group of actors, with a couple of well-received seasons under their belt, is tight and happy. The production next heads out to regional Australia. Tour kicked off in, you betcha, Broken Hill.