By Adriano Shaplin
Directed by Greg Carroll
With Kate Cole, Dion Mills, Richard Cawthorne & Kenneth Ransom
Set Design by Greg Carroll
Lighting by Nick Merryless
Sound by David Whiteley
Stage Manager Madeline French
Pugilist Specialist (February 9 – March 5, 2005) Owen Richardson – The Sunday Age – 13/02/2005
Red Stitch has started the season with style, force and a strong contemporary subject, the strongest imaginable right now. Pugilist Specialist, by American playwright Adriano Shaplin, comes almost in the form of a Hollywood thriller.
Three marine lieutenants meet in barracks: explosives expert Stein (Kate Cole), sniper Freud (Richard Cawthorne), and surveillance expert Studdard (Dion Mills). They are in the dark about their mission until commander Colonel Johns (Kenneth Ransom) appears: they are to assassinate a Middle Eastern dictator whom they refer to only as The Bearded Lady. They are also recorded, every step of the way, for propaganda and post-mortem purposes.
This is a stylised and self-consciously eloquent thriller. Shaplin’s writing turns military jargon and big-dick talk into a harsh poetry of cynicism and braggadocio and insidious intentions. Stein is the conscience of the group, and her sex is an issue from the word go: it becomes clear that she may have to be sacrificed for the greater good and that her proven ability to get the job done may not be what the higher-ups want.
It’s powerful stuff. You may have quarrels with the piece – the writing was a little mannered for my taste and, at its weakest, some of the political points and anti-militarist jokes seemed a little facile – but there isn’t a moment when your attention wanders. In the small Red Stitch space it bears down on you, helped along by the sound design (lots of fierce rumbling and loud gunshots). Greg Carroll’s direction is tight and the actors, particularly Cole and Ransom, bring a great deal of charisma and conviction to their roles.