Playwright Hannie Rayson’s latest foray into controversial areas of the Australian national psyche, “Two Brothers” delivers a decidedly mixed melange of slick social satire and slack psycho-thriller. Opening-night auds were keen to laugh out loud at most of the comic bits, but play’s crudely schematic Gothic elements rang rather hollow.
Principal protags are a pair of diametrically opposed middle-aged male siblings, native to Rayson’s hometown, Melbourne. “Eggs” (Garry McDonald) is a rabidly Republican-style conservative minister for home security, while Tom (Nicholas Eadie) works as a liberal-left lawyer. The latter defends refugees like Iraqi-born Hazem (Rodney Afif), sole survivor of the recent sinking of an Indonesian people-smuggling vessel.
Hazem harbors secret knowledge of the catastrophic offshore incident that eventually overturns the lives of all those near and dear to each of the battling brothers. From Eggs’ Waspish wife, Fiona (Diane Craig), to Tom’s earthier, Greek-Aussie partner, Angie (Laura Lattuada), and their respective sons, naval serviceman Lachie (Ben Lawson) and drug-using Harry (Hamish Michael), the plight of one grief-stricken asylum seeker takes a heavy personal toll.
Heavy, too, is the hand shaping the unfolding drama, which betrays a melodramatic predictability potentially lifted by some often ribtickling wisecracks and occasional slapstick. Aiming for dark-humored suspense and sharply funny intrigue, the piece becomes increasingly schizoid, wavering between lifestyle sitcom and faux-Shakesperian tragedy.
The latter strand is most evident in McDonald’s superbly driven portrayal of amorally ambitious politician Eggs, who claws his way through the action like some modern-day Richard III.
Unfortunately, this central vortex of duplicitous evil is surrounded by ciphers and authorial mouthpieces voicing glib cant and soap opera-style platitudes instead of compelling dialogue inspired by a compelling real-life issue.
Neither Stephen Curtis’ suavely black, post-mod set design, spinning on a revolve, nor Ian McDonald’s moody electronic music can disguise this curiously half-baked affair from one of Down Under’s most acclaimed post-Williamson dramatists.
Numerous locally specific in-jokes and Aussie-centric cultural references also could affect prospects for international exposure.