Part two of Louis Nowra’s trilogy about dynastic succession in a family at war, “The Marvellous Boy” resembles a second act of a classic three-act screenplay, blighted by having to link a dynamic opener with a closer that promises much.
In the first play in Nowra’s series, “The Woman With Dog’s Eyes” staged last year by the Griffin Theater Company, two sons opt out of the construction business founded by their tyrannical father, leaving the youngest, Luke, to assume control of the family legacy.
In this new play, Luke (Toby Schmitz), the “marvelous boy” of the title, embarks on a crash course in managing the company after his father, Malcolm (Danny Adcock), learns he has terminal cancer. Luke is introduced to underworld identity Ray Pollard (Anthony Phelan), Pollard’s soft-hearted, hearing-impaired sidekick Victor (Bruce Spence) and Esther (Suzie Lindeman), a campaigner determined to expose Malcolm’s alleged wrongdoings to the world.
This trio is colorful but their combined purpose isn’t exactly clear.
Esther is attempting to derail Malcolm’s bid to construct his most ambitious building yet, a quality development that will stand out from the jerry-built constructions that fed his fortune.
Esther, who was Malcolm’s lover for a decade, appears motivated by spite rather than a genuine belief the building is wrong. Pollard does Malcolm’s bidding because he’s without morals and short of cash. Victor is kinda funny and just hangs around.
Young Luke, likely the only one who will survive into the third play, is the only character who goes on a journey. He seduces Esther, with the intention of persuading her to give up her attempt to halt the project but, predictably, he falls for her.
One of Australia’s leading scribes, Nowra hints at the lives of many actual Sydney identities in this play. One character even dies from avian flu, suggesting the scribe was redrafting until opening night.
Helmer David Berthold has done his best but even the very capable thesps seem to be unsure exactly what Nowra is getting at. Presumably, in the third play we’ll find out.