Five lost souls in their early 30s try to get more out of life than what they have in John Patrick Shanley’s Savage in Limbo. Set in a bar in the Bronx in the 1980s, the barman has a strict rule – if you don’t have a drink in front of you, then you’re out.
April White (Katharine Innes) seems like a fruitcake. She’s off with the pixies. At first, it’s just her and the barman, Murk (Dennis Manahan), and she falls asleep. Enter the loud Denise Savage (Anna Burgess), who is not backward in coming forward. She is not ready to take any crap from Murk.
Next, Linda Rotunda (Adele Elasmar) arrives … and she’s crying. Her boyfriend Tony Aronica (Ross Chisari), whom she loves, has just told her he wants to see other women … but not just any women – ugly broads. Rotunda can’t make head nor tail of it. Savage, who we discover is a friendless virgin – incredulous though the latter may seem – offers to be Rotunda’s friend.
Before long, Savage suggests the pair moves in together. But it is hardly smooth sailing from there. Savage extends the idea of roommates to the fruit cake and then tries to steal Rotunda’s boyfriend. None too pleased, Rotunda has a revelation of her own … as she fights to save her relationship with Aronica. Meanwhile, the barman, too, has a surprise in store.
I can’t say the plot concentrates on humans who are the smartest tools in the shed, nor the most psychologically equipped. In modern parlance, what we are treated to is a bit of a “sh.. show”. There is plenty of shouting and name calling along the way.
The cast is adept at realising the exaggerated personas, even if they represent people you would probably want to steer clear of. Anna Burgess plays on the bundle of contradictions that her character, Savage, requires. Adele Elasmar makes each scene count, revelling in the big, bold and buxom persona she inhabits.
Ross Chisari capitalises on the bravado and testosterone needed to realise Tony Aronica. Katharine Innes has charming ditz down pat. Dennis Manahan jumps in and out of the action in asserting Murk’s “authority”. He also has a delightful and unexpected scene (in costume) to give April a lift.
Humour, provocation and pain are Savage in Limbo’s hallmarks. The Local Taphouse in St Kilda is an ideal setting in which to realise Shanley’s vision. The esteemed writer, who grew up in the Bronx, has produced some special works. Moonstruck, starring Cher, won him the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1988. His play, Doubt: A Parable scored the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award in 2005.
Savage in Limbo is not my favourite in Shanley’s catalogue of achievements. The over-the-top characters, with their lack of “smarts”, tend to grate after a while. I am not convinced that there is enough in the interchanges to sustain the play’s 80-minute running time (without interval). I found it verbose. Still, under Maurice Mammoliti’s direction, it brings a few laughs and elicits some sympathy.
Savage in Limbo is playing at The Local Taphouse in St Kilda until 12th June, 2022.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Italian American Reconciliation (Lab Theatre) – theatre review
- Four Dogs and a Bone (Q44 Theatre) – theatre review
- Frozen (Capitol) – musical theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.