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Theatre Review: Never Swim Alone

Scoop Review: Never Swim Alone


Aaron Cortesi (Frank) and Nick Dunbar (Bill)

Never Swim Alone
By Daniel MacIver in association with da da kamera [Toronto]
Theatre Pataphysical
Director: Ryan Hartigan
Cast: Aaaron Cortesi, Nick Dunbar, Alicia Sutton
April 4 - 13 (No show Sunday/Monday)
7pm (60 Minutes)


A circle of sand on the stage invoke a school-holiday beach and also serve as a kind of symbolic sumo-wrestling ring. Two men in suits play out vignettes of male interaction, each one a new round in a tournament of masculinity. The woman in the raised seat with the bathing suit and the whistle is a referee something like the opposite of a lifeguard.

The play is Canadian and while it has been adapted to a New Zealand setting the male culture and competition depicted appears to be closely shared. In fact, as the two men greeted each other with a series of conversational and social cliches I was reminded of "How You Doing?", the song by New Zealand's The Front Lawn, both in terms of the content and the use of rhythmic, repeated phrases - something which is a feature of the play.

This is thrown together with narration, naturalism and abstraction, with scenes and characters that are both individual and emblematic. All performed with at a sustained high level of energy by the cast - I noticed sweat on Cortesi's forehead well before the end - as man was pitted against man, the one-upmanship based on everything from the suit "uniform", to personal connections, to sons and fathers, to, yes, penis size.

It seems like each of these have been covered before elsewhere, but put together they make a thorough, telling and increasingly worrisome compilation under the heading "What it is about guys".

The winner of each round takes a few moment to chat with the audience about his history or personality - this, and the fact the interaction in each round also represent moments from their life, draws us into their world.

I did however begin to wonder if this was heading anywhere - a litany of incisiveness on various masculine behaviours wasn't quite satisfying. It's hard to fault the performances or the text here - perhaps there was an evenness of rhythm in the relentless stage action. However - we were definitely going somewhere, and it arrived rather suddenly in the last minutes.

The play was woven through with references to the beach holiday and girl saying, "Race you to the point!"

If it seemed like we were a while getting to that point, it had a cutting edge when it came. The structure of the tournament collapses as the dog eat dog competition overtakes the rules. The cryptic threats scattered through the play come to a head and we discover the tragic consequences of that race to the point at the beginning of the two men's adulthood.

The masculine culture surveyed through the production - the same that is the source of so many jokes both in this show and elsewhere - is shown as an arms race, a head-to-head competition to determine who is 'the best man'. Violence is always close and the danger is great for everyone concerned.

It was disturbing. And it didn't help that some of those repeated phrases stuck in my head like a familiar song, replay all the tragedy and pathos they are woven with in the climax of the play.

***********

Never Swim Alone Press release

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