Andrew Upton’s “Riflemind,” a tantalizing tale of washed-up rockers who regroup at their former frontman’s rural English property to mull the possibility of a reunion tour, delivers much of what it promises but leaves some questions unanswered. Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his first professional outing Down Under and featuring an ensemble of top-notch actors, this world preem production has been well-resourced and nurtured by the Sydney Theater Company.
In 2008, Upton and wife Cate Blanchett will assume the creative reins of STC, Australia’s pre-eminent subsidized legit company, where Upton has been mentored by outgoing artistic chief Robin Nevin. “Riflemind” is Upton’s second play, following adaptations of classics commissioned by the company, including the “Hedda Gabler” that starred Blanchett and traveled to New York.
John (Hugo Weaving) is a moody, guilt-wracked singer who has never come to terms with the power he wields over others’ lives. Phil (Martin Csokas) is his jealous brother. Together they are the Jagger-Richards of the once hugely successful hard rock outfit Riflemind.
In retirement they live lavishly, in contrast to their drummer Moon (Steve Rodgers), who is broke and angling for a reunion tour. The thought of regrouping, however, fuels the deep insecurity of John’s heroin-using wife Lynn (Susan Prior).
Rounding out the play’s characters are band managers Sam and Cindy (Jeremy Sims, Susie Porter), resented by John for reasons never fully explained. Similarly, the John-Lynn plot is packed with enough subtext to be a play within itself.
The entertaining production leaves a number of plot points up in the air but Upton has infused “Riflemind” with lots of clever, often very funny one-liners. The play is staged on a warm, contempo kitchen-living room set designed by Richard Roberts, and Hoffman’s assured direction is innovative and vibrant. Weaving, Porter and Sims shine in a terrific cast.