As Australia’s leading legit troupes grow more conservative, limiting the number of original local productions to just three each year — two of them shared with another company — it beccomes increasingly incumbent on smaller companies to produce new works. Despite its limited resources, Sydney’s Griffin Theater Company has embraced that role with enthusiasm and increasing dexterity, most recently in its richly rendered production of Louis Nowra’s “The Woman with Dog’s Eyes.”
Under David Berthold, who left his post atop the Australian Theater for Young People to assume the role of artistic director this year, Griffin — housed in the compact, ancient Stables Theater in inner Sydney — is quickly establishing a reputation for producing tightly executed, interesting shows by some of the country’s leading scribes.
Nowra’s new play is a story of second generation succession in a family that has struggled to the top of the construction industry, but now faces the death of the patriarch. As the family gathers for the parents’ wedding anniversary, at the place where they were married 40 years earlier, tensions bubble up.
Of the three brothers, two are jostling for control of the company and a third, the black sheep, has been ostracized but now seeks forgiveness. Their wives and partners are absent. One is sliding into madness and can’t be trusted to behave in public. Another is pregnant with the first grandchild and fears the patriarch’s wrath for her fiancé. The third and youngest son has recently split from his girlfriend.
Nowra quickly paints a picture of a family tenuously held together and repellant to those on its fringes. The ambitious father is intent on securing his legacy through his company rather than his family. His wife is drowning in sadness and booze.
With no props and only a simple set consisting of a couch and a couple of stained glass windows, the cast maintain momentum and an even pitch throughout. The production owes its success equally to strong ensemble perfs and direction, and a polished script by Nowra, one of Australia’s most established playwrights.