Monday, 6 February 2017

The Way Things Work, Feb 5, 2017 ****

By Aidan Fennessy, Red Stitch Actors' Theatre 
Red Stitch, St. Kilda until March 5, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 5, 2017
Stars: ****

Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon Feb 6, 2017 and later in print. KH
Joe Petruzzi, Peter Houghton

We hope against hope that our governments and corporations stay honest, but all those blokes we see on the TV news marching into corruption enquiries chip away at our faith in ethical practices.

Power corrupts, goes the saying, and in Aidan Fennessy’s play, The Way Things Work, Minister Barlow (Joe Petruzzi) is the epitome of a dodgy, state politician as he tries to wriggle out of a corruption scandal by schmoozing then blackmailing a senior public servant, Dench (Peter Houghton).

Fennessy’s biting satire peers into the machinations of the political, corporate and criminal worlds at the point where they intersect over the building of the fictional Western Link Tunnel that is now the subject of a Royal Commission.

Houghton and Petruzzi are versatile and credible in their multiple roles as they deliver Fennessy’s acerbic dialogue with comic assurance.

The two-hander divides into three acts, the first observing the off-the-record meeting between Barlow and Dench, while the second portrays a volatile confrontation between the two Greek-Australian brothers (Petruzzi, Houghton) who own the company that supplied concrete for the tunnel.

The final scene, between a prison guard (Petruzzi) and a violent criminal (Houghton), is the most physically intimidating and makes the space dangerous while it reveals the extent of the corrupt practices of the previous characters.

Petruzzi embodies the smarmy but rough-edged politician, Barlow, who fights like a mongrel dog to save his corrupt career from disgrace, while Houghton’s Dench shifts from a reasonable, ethical man to one who is cowardly and pliable.

 Joe Petruzzi, Peter Houghton
The initially broad, comic caricatures of the concrete–selling brothers take a nasty turn as Houghton’s character reveals his strategy to undermine his brother’s plans for a ‘golden handshake’  – with the blessing of their mother.

Houghton’s formidable acting range is evident in the third scene when he transforms into the sneering, manipulative inmate who seems vulnerable and needy until he reveals his secret control over his gaoler, Warren, played with easy blokiness by Petruzzi.

Fennessy, who both wrote and directed the play, maintains a simmering dangerous energy in all scenes while commenting satirically on the unethical and criminally corrupt practices that sometimes permeate our governments and corporations.

The Way Things Work is an indictment of these practices and it reminds us how powerless we are to interrupt the flow of corruption and how little we know about what goes on behind closed doors.

By Kate Herbert 

Joe Petruzzi & Peter Houghton

Set and Costumes - Aidan Fennessy
Lighting - Matt Scott
Sound - Russell Goldsmith

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