Raymond Carver is enjoying a renaissance in Oz right now. His story “So Much Water So Close to Home” is being adapted into the feature film “Jindabyne,” helmed by Ray Lawrence and starring Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney. Now “Ray’s Tempest” draws loosely on the last 11 years of Carver’s life and some of the poems he penned during that time.
The original idea by Richard Roxburgh and Justin Monjo was workshopped back in 1994, but didn’t fly until thesp Steve Rodgers, who had taken part in those original workshops, obtained permission from the pair in 1999 to attempt a rewrite.
For a debut script, “Ray’s Tempest” is admirable. The wrenching emotional journey of a family wrecked by booze and grief, of people who still love each other deeply but are so damaged by their experience together that they refuse to forgive, is absorbing.
Ray (Russell Kiefel) and Ruthie (Anni Finsterer) are alcoholics. Their son Frog (Damon Gameau) is caught in the middle until a terrible incident spurs Ray to leave the family. He takes a job as a salesman and fares poorly until a doctor tells him he’s not got long to live. This is the catalyst for him to give up drinking and rediscover his long-forsaken dignity.
Finsterer is wonderful as Ruthie, who builds a new life after her family is destroyed and also finds sobriety. Around her, the other actors are at their best.
The device that reunites Ray and Ruthie is a reality show within the play that scribe Rodgers loosely based on CBS series “The Will.” The skein, which featured friends and family competing for the estate of millionaire Bill Long, clearly appalled Rodgers. In the “Ray’s Tempest” version, dying people compete for viewer empathy to win prizes of their choosing worth $1 million. Ray is encouraged to enter the show and, through it, Ruthie and Frog learn he is dying.
Then follows some more poignant stuff, where Carver’s voice really shines through. Inspired by the poem “Gravy,” wherein Carver celebrates his new sobriety, new love and every extra day he never thought he’d see, Rodgers portrays Ruthie and Ray getting reacquainted.
Act one of “Ray’s Tempest” meanders somewhat but the strong finish makes the journey worthwhile.