“Grey Nomad” Reviewed by Dan Berkowitz

The bad news is that, if you don’t speak Australian, you might miss a number of what – to judge by the Australians in the audience – were some of the funniest lines and references ever uttered. The good news is that it doesn’t matter, as there are enough other hilarious lines for you to catch, and there’s more than enough infectious good cheer in Iain Sinclair’s production of Dan Lee’s Grey Nomad that you can afford to miss a bunch of it and still come out smiling.

Now, before anyone gets on my case, yes, yes, I know: Australians speak English, and purportedly Americans do as well. But if you’ve ever tried to decipher a fast-talking product of the American Deep South – or Brooklyn – you know accents and the patois differ from region to region. The Australian Theatre Company, which is presenting Grey Nomad, has thoughtfully provided, in the program, a glossary of Australian terms which figure in the play. If you have time before the show, you might check them out, but if you’re a headless chook, don’t worry about it. [No, I’m not going to tell you: you have to see the show and read the glossary to figure out what I just said.]

Anyway, to the play…

Ros Gentle and David Ross Paterson. Photo: Adrian Wlodarczyk

Jim (David Ross Paterson) has retired, and he and wife Helen (Ros Gentle) are roaming around Australia in a recreational vehicle, a sort of hajj which, apparently, attracts great numbers of retirees. They still have their house, which, during the course of the play we learn their two grown children have retreated to, but Mum and Dad are determined to have a fine time on the road. Dad perhaps more than Mum, who has a bit of resentment against Dad for not having recognized how much work being a Mum (and a Wife) really was. Why is it only his retirement they’re celebrating, she wants to know?

L-R: Paul Tassone, Ros Gentle, David Ross Paterson, and Wendy Hammers. Photo: Adrian Wlodarczyk

Also making the nomadic rounds of Australia are Val (Wendy Hammers) and Tim (Paul Tassone), whom Jim dreads running into, and seems, in fact, to be running from as the play opens. When Val and Tim finally enter, we get an idea of why uptight Jim and proper Helen might be uncomfortable: the second couple could very well have been hippies in the Summer of Love, and they enter starkers – aka stark naked – and the actors do too. Though Tim and Val have their backs to the audience, they’re facing Jim and Helen – full frontal, as it were – and the expressions on the uptight couples’ faces were enough to send the audience into paroxysms of laughter.

As time goes on, Val and Helen bond, and Tim and Jim at least agree to tolerate each other. Though the two couples are vastly different – buttoned-up versus hippy-dippy-naturist, devoted parents as opposed to people without kids – there’s enough common ground, and humanity, for them to come to terms with each other.

Wendy Hammers (L) and Ros Gentle. Photo: Adrian Wlodarczyk

In the second act, Val and Helen sneak off to a wet t-shirt contest, and Tim and Jim share a whiskey. These two scenes, though vastly different in tone, beautifully display not only the playwright’s command of his material, but also showcase the significant talents of the actors and their director. The t-shirt contest is loud, bold, and brash, with Val celebrating her openness and sexuality and Helen getting a taste of what she missed by being a dutiful wife and mother. Meanwhile, the scene between the men, while low-key and subtly underplayed, packs an emotional wallop as Tim reveals why he and Val are really nomadding around the continent: on opening night, you could hear the proverbial pin drop.

Paul Tassone and Ros Gentle. Photo: Adrian Wlodarczyk

The play ends with one of those wonderfully cathartic moments which cause an audience to laugh and cry at the same time, and the ovation it gives the cast is well-deserved. All the actors are splendid, terrifically funny but utterly believable, and Mr. Sinclair’s direction keeps things crackling.

The set by Se Oh is simple and elegant, and is stunningly lit by Jared A. Sayed. The costumes by Kate Bergh are witty and well-done, and Cricket S. Myers’s sound design makes a major contribution.

Grey Nomad is Dan Lee’s first produced play, and the Australian Theatre Company has done a bang-up job with it. Here’s to hearing much more both from Mr. Lee and the Company!

Grey Nomad
Written by Dan Lee
Directed by Iain Sinclair

Through October 8

The Skylight Theatre
1816 ½ N. Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Tickets: 866-811-4111 or www.australiantheatrecompany.org


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