30 September 2007

I Love You, Bro

I Love You, Bro
30 September 2007
The Loft

I Love You, Bro is an example of why Fringe festivals are so important. This is an outstanding production that lets us see what incredible skill lurks in Melbourne’s independent theatre community.

It’s a brave decision to write, direct and perform a show that is set in front of a computer screen. If you’ve ever sat staring at your Messenger willing someone will appear, you will recognise yourself in Johnny. I Love You, Bro explores deception, obsession and love though the vicarious existence and construction offered by the internet.

Adam J A Cass has written an amazing script. By breaking many storytelling conventions and structures, he has created an authentic voice and style that surpasses expectations and establishes a unique and thoroughly believable world. He combines Johnny’s present story telling, inner dialogue, chat conversations and real life interactions seamlessly. Knowing this is a true story and reading the Vanity Fair article it’s based on, makes me admire this work even more. Cass chose an original perspective and includes just the right amount of story detail. His addition of Johnny’s mother and step father as off stage characters bring an extra and more grounded dimension to the story. I’d like to see it published, as it’s one of those rare scripts that works on the stage, but also begs to be read. The text and structure are so complex that it runs the risk of failing as a performance. Fortunately it was placed in very capable hands.

Yvonne Virsik is firmly establishing herself as a must have young director. She finds the emotional truth of a work and gently guides her actors towards an honest and balanced version of their characters. Johnny is always in front of his computer screen, but Virsik’s staging maintains action and interest. It’s like the audience are watching Johnny and his thoughts from within cyber space.

Jason Lehane’s stark and simple design gently supports and highlights the action. I loved how it reminded audiences that this theatre, by looking like a painted back drop, but came to life by combining the relatively simple technology of lighting and projection.

Finally, there’s Ash Flanders. If he isn’t nominated for best actor in the Fringe Awards, I’ll be surprised. This is a difficult script to perform. The action is minimal, the text is vital and he has to morph from chatting to the audience in the present to chatting on the computer in the past, whist presenting his own multiple characters and Marky Mark, the target of Johnny’s love and deceit. Flanders brings each character vividly to life though Johnny. Johnny himself is played with a delicate balance of sympathy, understanding and judgement. Meanwhile Flanders connects totally and personally with the audience and never lets our attention wander.

My only concern is that the humour isn’t working as strongly as it should. I assumed it was pitch black comedy, but it often felt like straight drama. The audience took a long time to laugh and seemed almost uncomfortable when they did. The writing speaks so strongly about the emotional core of Johnny, that perhaps the audience need more permission to enjoy the humour. True comedy is only a faction of a millimetre away from tragedy; I Love You, Bro needs a small nudge back for the comedy to work.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com

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