The Australian Theatre Company has a winner in their new production of Andrew Bovell’s award winning play Speaking in Tongues. The two-act script calls for four actors in seven roles, and has it all — scintillating comedy, moments of tragedy, and affecting melodrama — performed by superb cast of Australian theatre and film veterans.
On a split stage, two couples are engaged in attempting pick-up sex in seedy hotel rooms. They are strangers straying from marriage for the first time. In a bit of delicious playwriting, the couples say nearly the same things at approximately the same moment, often simultaneously, frequently echoing each other, Neil (Jamie Irvine) and Sonja (Kym Wilson) stage right, Leon (Matt Passmore) and Jane (Tina Kobas) stage left. When the couples return to their individual homes, we discover, not unexpectedly, that Neil’s wife is Jane and Leon’s is Sonja. A partial truth comes out, each couple having a partner that successfully hides their indiscretion with the other confessing, which causes a temporary break up. The drama darkens as, later, by chance, the men connect in one bar, the women in another, and commiserate eventually returning home for confrontation and honesty.
In the second act the performers take on new roles as the story turns to mystery and angst involving a woman who disappears, the husband who fails to help her in her moment of need, a man struggling to understand the disappearance of a lover, that lover’s emotional bleakness, the man who may or may not have been culpable in the first woman’s disappearance and a police officer, Leon, from Act I, who digs for clues. The characters are all cross-linked in tantalizing ways.
Speaking in Tongues is handsomely mounted at The Matrix with a fluid double turntable set by John Iacovelli, lit by Jared A. Sayeg. Costumes by Kate Bergh suit character, place and action as does Cricket S. Meyers’ sound design.
In directing Speaking in Tongues with all its complexity, Jeneffa Soldatic has done exemplary work in keeping action of the show clear and the pace brisk. The cast has star-power wattage, a compelling confidence, and a boldness that is a joy to behold. It is the kind of charisma and energy one has come to expect from our beloved austral cousins.
Speaking in Tongues is one-half of ATC’s Double Feature. Brendan Cowell’s Ruben Guthrie plays in rotating rep with Speaking in Tongues through June 28 at The Matrix, 7657 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles.