With “The Unlikely Prospect of Happiness,” Australia’s best-funded theater company, which has been criticized as unadventurous by various respected critics in recent years, receives an energy boost from former soap thesp Jeremy Sims.
The ex-star of soft-porn skein “Chances” has acted in a few STC productions, but had to launch his own production company, Pork Chop Prods., in order to get a break as a director. He eventually made a capable Sydney Theater Co. directorial debut last year with “The Shape of Things.”
Key among his triumphs with his second production, a new play by Tony McNamara, is the casting of STC newcomers Anthony Simcoe, Alan Dukes and Russell Dykstra. Thesps display a dynamism often lacking in Australian theater, in particular Dykstra, who again proves himself to be one of Australia’s most talented but underutilized actors.
Dykstra’s Ben is facing a premature midlife crisis, seven years after reluctantly giving up his burgeoning career as an architect to take over the family’s suit-manufacturing business.
His brother Steve (Simcoe) is a drunkard gambler who abandoned his kids to be raised by Ben and his wife. Steve never recovered from the death of his wife seven years previously, and he shirks responsibilities at the family company.
Meanwhile, their father (Denis Moore) has ostensibly retired from the business he founded but is refusing to relinquish control and thwarting Ben’s bid to expand offshore. Ben’s wife, Liz (Helen Dallimore), has sunk into despair after raising her selfish brother-in-law’s kids and is taking it out on her husband.
With Ben facing meltdown, in walks foxy Tax Dept. auditor Zoe Sparks. Her arrival is the catalyst for Ben’s reawakening — the name says it all. Unfortunately, film actress Pia Miranda struggles in the play’s least well-drawn role.
McNamara’s overly complicated first act and his bid to make a screwball comedy of material better suited to light drama are inconsequential flaws given the production’s overall verve and panache.