Sunday, March 21, 2021

You're Not Special

Photo by Kate Williams

The Rogues Projects present, YOU'RE NOT SPECIAL, by Sam O'Sullivan, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), with the bAKEHOUSE THEATRE. 5th March - 20th March.

YOU'RE NOT SPECIAL, is a new Australian work by Sam O'Sullivan, Directed by Samantha Young. This play follows up from Mr O'Sullivan's play THE BLOCK UNIVERSE. Both these plays have proved to be very interesting experiences and are exciting as Mr O'Sullivan's playwriting skills have grown promisingly from exposure to exposure.

YOU'RE NOT SPECIAL, introduces us to a couple Dan (Akira Ashraf) and Ellie (Kate Skinner), who have set up an apartment. Ellie has found a client who has her working digitally on-line, which gathers a demand with increasing pressure as the play moves through time. Dan, in the meantime, is spending his time on-line and becomes obsessed with a woman he has met called April-May (Ariadne Sgouros) - he stalks the April-May persona on-line, until he discovers her creator's real identity and goes so far as to coerce an actual live meet up with her. 

The play takes us into a weird world where Dan has neglected his 'face-to face' partnership with Ellie, who genuinely needs his advice and care, whilst falling possessed by a digital identity that is an invention - a fiction - he goes so far as to propose marriage to the business woman behind the 'game' figure April-May at the expense to his relationship with Ellie.  On meeting the inventor of April-May, Dan is confronted by the business woman, the owner of the April-May franchise, and is informed of all the 'contractual' legal issues surrounding the internet and the dangerous ludicrousness of his barrier intrusions - he is devastated.

Both Dan and Ellie are left bereft, her job lost, his fantasy exploded.  YOU'RE NOT SPECIAL is an urgently cautionary tale for the present times. The play, however - despite the different ending - reminded me of the story, of the character of Theodore Twomby (Joaquin Phoenix), a writer who falls in love with his Artificial Intelligence avatar, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), in the Spike Jonze 2014 film: HER

The major problem with this production of this interesting play lies with Samantha Young's casting choices. Kate Skinner, one of the three 'pillars' of the work, gives an impassioned and empathetic life for Ellie as her world collapses about her under the pressure of the client she is working for. Ms Skinner serves Mr O'Sullivan's play well - emotionally and with intelligence to Ellie's arc of action and its consequences. 

The problem for this production is in Ms Young's casting of the two other 'pillars' in this three handed work. Ariadne Sgouros gives an explosive and convincing life to her responsibilities in the last scene of the play. Unfortunately, she seems to have regarded her earlier opportunities as April-May cursorily - the second pillar of the work is therefore faulty - she is not a consistently visible presence or constructor of the narrative of Mr O'Sullivan's dramaturgy. It is an odd experience for the audience, for one has virtually switched off her offers only to be jolted to an attendance to the power of the character's closure through the actor's sudden commitment - it is too late. The acting demonstrates the skill of the actor in that last episode but she has undermined the play and its structure by the casualness of action in the earlier part of the play. Ms Sgouros' storytelling responsibilities to the writer are neglectful.

Akira Ashraf, a recent graduate from Acting School, at the performance I attended, had no physical life beyond a dexterity in the lower arm, wrist and hands - his body had no flexibility and no communicative instrumentality - he was, as my companion observed:  "as stiff as a board " - his tall narrow back, which was positioned often in our seating eye line told nothing of his contribution as a storyteller. As well, he delivered his text on one high vocal note that was varied only by volume - loud or soft. This third pillar of YOU'RE NOT SPECIAL was nearly non-existent. And if two of the three 'pillars' of the work are not succeeding in telling the story, the play is damaged. The strength of the writing was obscured and the experience diminished.

The production was supported by Anna Gardiner with her Set and Costume Design. Lighting Designed by Martin Kinnane and the Sound Design by Kaitlyn Crocker.

YOU'RE NOT SPECIAL is an interesting play by Sam O'Sullivan damaged in this production experience by the lack of skills of two of the performers, under the direction of Samantha Young. 

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