If great theater is hatched out of solid collaborations, then Brendan Cowell’s acerbic mainstage playwriting bow is doubly blessed. Revamped for this engagement after premiering on Company B’s experimental B Sharp stage in 2008, “Ruben Guthrie” retains the key collaborators from that successful debut, helmer Wayne Blair and lead Toby Schmitz. The new production sparkles with energy derived from Schmitz’s obvious delight in the title character’s smartass repartee and a cast that responds with gusto to the assured direction of a well-honed script.
Twentysomething man-child Guthrie (Schmitz) is an advertising creative in possession of a hypnotic mix of talent, arrogance and charm. His luck has run out: The play opens with him at an AA meeting, his arm in a sling, struggling to admit he’s an alcoholic.
Guthrie’s boozy, workaholic lifestyle has destroyed his relationship with model fiancee Zoya (Adrienne Pickering), who returns home to Prague. Her departure leads him to give up drinking and, to the dismay of his mentor boss Ray (Roy Billing), quit his job, for which boozing is almost a requirement.
Guthrie’s sobriety eventually alienates his best friend Damian (Torquil Neilson) and confuses his alcoholic father Peter (Geoff Morrell), leaving him quite alone. It’s at the AA meetings that he succumbs to the charms of fellow abstainer Virginia (Megan Durry), who moves in as his zealous, self-appointed life coach.
During the first act, Cowell, who abstained from alcohol for a year when writing the play, explores the process of the personality stripped bare by sobriety. In act two Zoya’s return brings Guthrie’s love triangle into stark relief, forcing him to chose between Virginia’s somewhat sterile world and the excitement of his old milieu.
A poet, actor and director of film, theater and TV, Cowell proves himself worthy of his many encouragement awards for playwriting. (He also penned episodes and was a key cast member of lauded cable series “Love My Way.”) “Ruben Guthrie” is built on solid knowledge of the characters who prowl Jacob Nash’s bare white set, flanked by shelves loaded with liquor bottles. The intimate Belvoir stage works well with this piece, which easily expands to the fill the space despite its birth in the tiny downstairs theater.
Blair’s casting of Morrell and Billing, who is enjoying a renaissance thanks to top-rated crime skein “Underbelly,” boosts an entertaining show set for a long life.