The Narcissist

Roundhouse Theatre (La Boite)


By Stephen Carleton

Professional production

It’s all about him, one of those smug upwardly-mobile types you see in the inner suburbs these days, who live in flash flats with no kitchen but a very elaborate drinks cabinet and bar fridge. I don’t know if SINK (single income no kids) is a recognised acronym anymore, but it’s entirely appropriate for Xavier, who really is the pits. And if you say his name very quickly after a few drinks you’ll work out who he really thinks he is.

As played by Sandro Colarelli, he is a totally obnoxious gay man (and that shouldn’t be taken as a tautology) with shifting allegiances and no loyalty to anyone except himself. Xavier’s only redeeming feature is that he knows this and doesn’t care about it – if he added hypocrisy to the slimy mess that he is, the only thing worth doing to him would be to flush him straight down the gurgler.

He flats with another guy called Satchel, a charming illiterate who is played by Jonathan Brand like a grown-up Calvin from the popular comic strip. Or maybe it’s just the hair. Satchel has won the Most Eligible Barista in Brisbane for three years in a row, and his burning ambition is to be selected as a contestant on Big Brother. His current crisis, though, is about which persona he should use – but he has to invent one first.

He’s straight (I think), so he and Xavier are not lovers, which makes their later tongue kiss (don’t ask) very funny, and Xavier has a fag-hag friend (that’s if people like Xavier actually have friends) called Bronwyn who, in Andrea Moore’s rendition, is ever so slightly sexually ambiguous. But she wears the most wonderful clothes. (Greg Clarke, do you take private commissions?)

Enter Xavier’s pathetic ex-lover (Scott Parmeter as Jesse) who has found God and is seeking to redeem himself by marrying a born-again Christian neurotic. Jesse brings the appalling Y’landah (“pronounce it as it’s spelt, please!”) into the mix, and with her tendency to projectile-vomit if anyone mentions anal sex, and to scream like a banshee whenever the word brown is mentioned, and exhibit every bitchy trick that a smug Christian control freak with a bible in her pocket can get away with, the quintet becomes what can most kindly be described as a nest of vipers, except that nobody’s getting into anyone’s bosom. The odd gay tongue kiss, as above, yes, but nothing more than that. And forget all about anal sex.

The challenge that desperate and dateless Xavier and Bronwyn have set each other is to land a guy before New Year’s Eve, six weeks away, and there’s a carton of Moet plus a week at Port Douglas at stake. But Jesse wants Xavier to be best man at his wedding, booked for exactly the same time, and so our narcissist has a problem on his hands.

And that’s the basis of the plot, as far as it goes. The big question is, how are we to read it?

The playwright suggests in the program notes that this a farce, but I don’t think it’s slick enough or witty enough to justify such a claim. The dialogue and the jokes, and even the situation, I suggest, are curiously old-fashioned, and my problem was, and still is, whether to damn it as a 1980s “Greed is Good” throwback, or applaud it as post-post modern comic strip art, a genre which is becoming increasingly trendy, if the Arts pages in The Australian are to be believed.

There’s certainly nothing subtle about it, and the characters are all caricatured to the point of tedium as they spout their dated jokes, but the Generation Xs and Ys in the first night audience thought it was hysterically funny. I honestly don’t know whether their expectations have been lowered by watching too much Virtual Reality on television (they certainly didn’t get the running joke about grammatical correctness) or whether I’m so old and jaded that I’ve lost my sense of humour, but I couldn’t find much to laugh at in this production, and neither could my Baby Boomer friends.

Greg Clarke’s clever set cleverly conveys the two-dimensional aspect of the play, with lots of red and black echoing the theme on even deeper levels, and the ’80s disco music also contributes to the old-fashioned feel, for surely the ’80s haven’t become retro yet. Please? (I’m only asking as a Boring Old Fart, you understand.)

My real worry, though, is about the direction in which La Boite is heading. Whether it’s part of a desperate attempt to attract younger audiences I don’t know, but both last year and this year most of the productions have been coming-of-age-in-Brisbane sagas, mostly adaptations of very flimsy local novels. What about expanding people’s horizons? What about suggesting that there’s a big world of situations and ideas out there just waiting to be explored? What about giving talented experienced actors like these something worthwhile to do? What about some plays for grown-ups?

And at this point I shall put on my fluffy slippers and settle down with a cup of hot cocoa in front of a DVD (yes, at least I’ve reached that stage of modernity) and watch Brideshead Revisited for some gay comedy that gives me something worth thinking about.

Directed by Ian Lawson

Designer Greg Clarke

Playing 1 – 17 March 2007, Tuesday and Wednesday at 6.30pm, Thursday – Saturday at 8pm, matinees Tuesdays 6 and 13 March at 11am, Saturday 17 March at 2pm

Duration : 2 hours 45 minutes, one interval at 9pm

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Wed 28th February 2007)