“You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye” – Glenn Frey & Don Henley.
Those lyrics from the Eagles song “The Last Resort” floated across my consciousness during a bravura sequence in this show where Chris Isaacs’s character describes the sights of an unexpected road detour in Bali. I won’t spoil the impact by providing further details other than saying it offers a telling commentary on our relationship with the popular island destination and its effect.
Indeed, only a cursory summary of the plot of Bali will be given here as the joy is in the consummate storytelling which needs to be experienced firsthand. To wit, this is the continued adventures of Jimmy (Jeffrey Jay Fowler) and Corgan (Isaacs) who we first met in the award winning FAG/STAG in 2015. This time Corgan’s mum is holding her 60th birthday celebration week in Bali and the lads are along for the ride. Each show signs of reluctance though for completely different reasons.
On the surface this is a witty comedy but like its predecessor the control of tone is exceptional with exquisite observation, raw emotion that is earned, and sequences like the above that are gut punch effective. Fowler and Isaacs have an immensely likable rapport and as writer/performers have total command of the material. The audience can be belly laughing one moment to pin drop silent the next. That roller coaster emotional journey for the characters and the audience is an outstanding feature of both plays.
Many of the same techniques from FAG/STAG are used – contradictory points of view in the retelling as the two characters recount moments quite differently. Often for comic effect; critically for deeper insight into who they are, how they perceive the world, and why. The actors are again seated on stools with a table in between where there are a variety of drinks. The other significant prop is the ubiquitous mobile phone (I seem to learn of a new app from Jimmy’s character every play!).
It is a deliberately sparse set. The world is created by the vivid writing and delivery, Scott McArdle’s lighting design, and Nathan Jamieson’s subtle sound design. I love the level of authenticity in the script with such fine detail not only in describing the Bali locales but also in the well rounded characters and their interactions. I have a complete picture of, for example, Corgan’s mum in my head without her ever appearing onstage. Set-ups are paid off handsomely and the parallel revelations for both characters are emotionally true and, particularly in Jimmy’s case, devastating.
Smartly, they are on a raised platform as the angle of the raked seating in the Subiaco Arts Centre Studio isn’t always ideal for the best viewing experience. It shouldn’t be a problem here and the intimate space is perfect for this style of storytelling. There is an honesty that is compelling – in the depiction of male friendship; sex and sexuality; consumerism; casual racism; western world entitlement; homophobia; drugs; and the crucial events in our past that shape us. It’s also damn funny precisely because there is so much we recognise that resonates with us.
As a bonus, Bali includes perhaps the most impassioned defence of a (not very good, sorry Corgan) Hollywood movie that you are ever likely to hear. It’s these surprising beats and unexpected turns that make this feel so real. The other thing is, I damn well like these characters!
This is not only a worthy companion piece to the terrific FAG/STAG but perhaps even better. The offshore setting allows Fowler and Isaacs to explore varied aspects of their characters and expose new vulnerabilities and strengths. It’s a wonderfully written, performed, and staged piece of theatre.
Venue: Subiaco Arts Centre
Dates: to 28 October 2017
For more of Richard Hyde’s writing on theatre, check out Perth Theatre Reviews
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Perpetual Wake (Subiaco Arts Centre) – theatre review
- Switzerland (BSSTC) – theatre review
- Unqualified (Ensemble) – theatre review
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television