ACT Double Feature: 'Speaking in Tongues' & 'Ruben Guthrie'

by Dale Reynolds

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday June 14, 2016

Suzanne Strong
Suzanne Strong   

Well, the Australian Theatre Company's second season came off with a hearty shout-out, indeed. Two plays which have been filmed were given their West Coast American showings and both deserve longer runs with this adventurous and talented company.

Played in repertory, the plays themselves were absorbing, dealing with heavy subjects such as infidelity and alcoholism. "Speaking in Tongues," by Andrew Bovell, superbly directed by Jeneffa Soldatic, is a study in time movement with four actors playing three different scenes (nine characters in all) over two acts. Not a whit confusing to those able to quickly follow the writer's hints, it highlights two couples who are in relationship-troubles.

Pete (Jamie Irvine) is married to Jane (Tina Kobas); Leon (Matt Passmore) is married to Sonja (Kym Wilson) -- but all four are struggling within their marriages and manage to meet separately with the other couple, having infidelity in their heads, but, ultimately, not in their hearts. They then discover their partners' acts (non-acts, really, but definitely thoughts) and react accordingly. The scenes play out in staccato beats, with the accused/ confessing partner mirroring what the other couple is saying. It's a brilliant gimmick, showing us (and them) how familiar these confusing confessions/ accusations sound and how futile the reactions.

In the next three scenes, we meet up with all the characters mentioned, even in passing, in previous scenes, leading to a stronger play. It's an extraordinary set-up, always engrossing and often amusing. Director Soldatic keeps the energy high and the actions clear and her cast is able to deliver the shoddy but intriguing goods. Irvine, Kobas, Passmore and Wilson are excellent at their craft, making all the potential confusions sing out clearly.

Nathan Sapsford and Nick Hardcastle
Nathan Sapsford and Nick Hardcastle  (Source: Suzanne Strong)

The other play, the American premiere of "Ruben Guthrie," exceedingly well-directed by Peter Blackburn, is a more conventional drama about one of the scourges of Australia, alcoholism. The title character (played vividly by Nathan Sapsford) is a successful advertising writer, flying high (in every sense of the phrase), but slowly coming to grips with the downsides: hangovers, destructive behavior, loss of friendships, and a family who clearly does not understand the disease, making it seem as a normal rite of passage for any red-blooded Aussie, (even for a metrosexual, as his father, Peter, played well by David Ross Paterson, labels him). Ruben's mother, Susan, chillingly portrayed by Vivienne Powell in a broad country-sound Aussie accent) believes it to be all mind over matter, although she herself was raised by an alky father and was married to one as well.

Ruben's girlfriend, Zoya (Ukrainian-born Sasha Yegorova) finally has had enough and leaves him to pursue her modeling career. His closest female friend, Virginia (Olivia Simone), slips into his bed and life, but cannot make his life become cleaner and clearer for him.

And, lastly, Dorian (Nick Hardcastle), a gay man his own age, a close ally, isn't willing enough to clean up his booze and drug excesses to remain his friend. Unlike Ruben's boss, Ray (Shane Conner), a recovered addict himself, who finally has to let Ruben go until he can stay clean and sober, in order to do his job properly, which Ruben does not trust can happen without outside stimulants.

The Australian Theatre Company double feature runs through June 27 at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046. For information or tickets, call 323-960-4443 or visit