Till Debt Do Us Part: Review of Hit Productions’ When Dad Married Fury
2014 is meant to be the year of David Williamson in Sydney, with eight of his plays being staged around the city at various times. One such production, When Dad Married Fury (2012), is currently playing at the Riverside Theatre Parramatta. The play is directed by Denis Moore, who has also stepped in to replace the scheduled departure of John Wood.
People out of the loop may be asking, what has Williamson done lately? And it may surprise them to learn he has been producing a play or two a year, every year since the 90s. This one is a more recent offering, and it is vintage Williamson. Many will be pleased to hear this, others may be less thrilled. But this play, if not Williamson’s most important work, is certainly charming and full of laughs from start to finish.
The story is perhaps a familiar one: brothers Ian and Ben have met to discuss tactics. Their multimillionaire father, Alan, has recently remarried an American, forebodingly known as Fury. They are worried about their inheritance, and are particularly blunt with their father about it. The play follows a series of maneuvers as they attempt to sure up their position. However, complications arise: Fury is pregnant with twins, introducing new claimants to the estate, and worse, Alan is being investigated for unscrupulous business practices during the height of the global financial crisis.
We quickly discover that each character is being pulled by the duel forces of love and greed. Some use love to justify their greed, while others try to downplay their desire for wealth with stories of love. As the play progresses we learn just how important these opposing motivators are for each character. What defines them in the end is the varying ratio contained within them. Arguably, no one undergoes a change throughout the piece; rather, we see the murkier core within.
All of the Williamson hallmarks appear: the characters are (for the most part) safely pigeon holed into their stereotypes. The themes are all very overt, and there is a good dose of political and social satire that focuses on both the slick financial swindlers and their victims. Williamson does throw in a couple of twists however: Fury, although very much a character-type, is not what you would normally expect, and the choice to leave certain characters unredeemed at the play’s close prevents the story from slipping into total predictability.
As Alan Urquhart, Denis Moore projects an Australian image of Walter Matthau with the added slipperiness of Richard Nixon. He delivers the right-wing garb to a punchable degree. It is actually pitched so well that one easily believes similarly power-hungry second-tier Murdoch men exist in pure form. Whilst some angry outbursts feel a little guided by stage direction rather than the natural flow, Moore strongly drives the cast into a calamity of wills (literally).
Drew Tingwell plays Ben, Alan’s devoted son who maintains his career in arts academia as a disgruntled and somewhat restless associate professor. Tingwell doesn’t always look comfortable on stage, but he consistently busts out a great comic line.
David James, formally of Play School fame, plays Ian Urquhart, Ben’s money-grubbing brother. James looks comfy in these shoes. He possesses a fantastic energy that lifts the room and whilst he is despicably incorrigible, he just leaves us wanting more.
Cue Annie Last, everybody’s idea of the conservative American. Last puts in a credible performance as Fury, though at times the American accent got the better of her. However, Last nails the American soul – a powerful optimism that Australians find rather uncomfortable. This alone pushes the character over the line of believability, though obviously with the Williamson stereotype still hanging in the background.
Unfortunately, others within the female cast did not deliver comically. Williamson’s writing aside (he frequently gives women less to work with), lines failed to reach their potential, often overplayed instead of letting the comedy spring from the drama. However, it should be mentioned that Jan Friedl (playing Judy – Ben’s bereaved and ailing mother-in-law) performs with quiet dignity in the cope-de-grace between herself and Alan.
Evidently, there were some great individual performances. However, the production lacked an ensemble feel. The problem largely appeared when performers stopped listening to each other, in favour of waiting to deliver a punch line.
It is true, Williamson is not the most subtle of writers, but it’s easy to forgive him in this instance, for the sole reason that the script is just so damn entertaining. This is a wonderfully funny production, and a night well spent at the theatre.
When Dad Married Fury is playing for a limited time at the Riverside Theater, Parramatta until the 22nd of February. For more information see: http://riversideparramatta.com.au/show/when-dad-married-fury/
To see the tour dates for this production see: