by April De Angelis
Directed by Lucy Freeman
With Verity Charlton, Martin Sharpe & Marcella Russon
Set Design by Peter Mumford
Lighting Stelios Karagiannis
Wild East (30 May, 2007 – 30 June, 2007) Cameron Woodhead, The Age (4/06/07)
Politicians, real estate agents, used car salesmen – all careers that score pretty low on the scale of public esteem. But as anyone who’s endured a job interview knows, there are worse. Human resources managers. Scum of the earth. Describe a problem you’ve overcome and how you overcame it. Jesus.
April De Angelis’ Wild East is a merciless satire on this psychology-by-numbers aspect of corporate culture. The comic three-hander takes the form of an extended job interview.
Frank (Martin Sharpe) is a young anthropology graduate applying for a position at a global marketing consultancy. His interviewers, Dr Gray (Marcella Russo) and Dr Pitt (Verity Charlton), run a good-cop, bad-cop routine on him – and the socially awkward Frank is soon regaling them with a litany of past indiscretions that render him unsuitable for the role.
But doctors Gray and Pitt aren’t on the same side. Personal and professional rivals, they’ve recently ended a love affair, and with a corporate restructure in the offing, are vying to retain their jobs. The videotaped interview becomes a contest, with each trying to sabotage the other – and by the time we get to the hilarious role-playing exercise, we’re not in Kansas any more.
De Angelis’ comedy circles a bewildering array of issues: the corporate persona, foreign exploitation, marketing spin, environmental destruction, the difficulty of measuring cultural value. But she doesn’t explore them – they’re just signposts on the road to capitalist hell.
It’s an absurd and outrageously funny show, and the actors make the most of it. Marcella Russo gives a devastating performance as Gray, and Sharpe is an amazing young actor. His character’s bumbling, unconfident exterior hides an unpalatable secret, and somehow, through force of charm, Sharpe makes the most unlikely transformation in the play work.
Verity Charlton is slightly miscast as Dr Pitt – her strength is more dramatic than comic, and the role is written for an expansive comic actress. To compensate, Charlton resorts to hit-and-miss histrionics – though sometimes she’s very amusing indeed.
Director Lucy Freeman renders the production consistently absorbing, despite the slightness of the play’s engagement with the issues it raises. Such superficiality is, of course, a symptom of the culture Wild East implicitly critiques – and Freeman makes us feel the full force of its allure.