Dunstan Playhouse, Tue 20 Oct
Robert Cousins’ dark, spacious set, already off-centre, with sharp angles jutting into the audience, its huge reflective backdrop making it impossible for anyone to hide from themselves, hints at what is to come. Colin Friels’ starkly lit, opening monologue, from Angela Betzien’s brilliant script, graphically lays us open to the best piece of kick-in-the-guts theatre to have graced an Adelaide stage in a very long time.
Revealing some shocking facts about the huge drug trafficking relationship between Australia, Mexico and Bolivia, this fantastic play brings the disturbing truth about this brutal and lucrative industry home to roost. Cocaine is in high demand in Australia as the fashionable party drug of choice for many affluent, stylish, go-getters.
The savage and shocking means adopted by those supplying the product to the well-polished mirrors of comfortable Australians, is the subject of this stunning piece of theatre.
Mortido speaks of the human desire to flirt with death, to take life to the extreme edge and still return, ideally but rarely, unscathed. It is compelling and very filmic in its pacing, multiple settings and gritty content.
Leticia Caceres’ excellent direction ensures the larger-than-life characters are always believable, multi-dimensional and human, even when behaving monstrously. Witty and gritty, it is beautifully performed by an excellent ensemble of actors, able to play these characters with nuance and subtlety, allowing the magic of the script to deliver the power of this story to the audience.
Colin Friels is totally at home on the stage and flows through his multiple roles with consummate ease and skill, his Detective Grubbe providing the voice of reason, and some of the funniest lines in the show, amidst the madness.
Tom Conroy gives a wonderful performance as Jimmy, the recovered junkie struggling to stay that way, a loving but inappropriate uncle to his nephew, Oliver, played beautifully by Calin Diamond, who doubles as Alvaro – the child ‘chosen’ to swallow small bags of cocaine and carry it across the border. As this story revolves tragically around a young boy, the juxtaposition of Calin’s presence on stage is, at times, confronting, haunting and rightfully heart-breaking.
Louisa Mignone brings power and command to both her roles. As Scarlet, she is a central pin of the family; Jimmy’s sister and long-time supporter, Oliver’s mother, and the pregnant wife of successful businessman/drug dealer, Monte. Renato Musolino as Monte delivers the perfect mix of cocksureness, ruthless self-serving and pecking-order-bullying to make Monte a totally believable, if unlikeable, character. Musolino also does a wonderful turn as Darren Shine, freshly out of hospital and anything but shiny.
Into the mix add David Valencia as the electrifying, sexy and dangerous El Gallito, the rooster personified, strutting, savage, beautiful and deadly.
The dance of all the characters is funny, gorgeous, frightening and sometimes, totally surprising. Scott Witt’s elegant movement direction increases the intensity and colour with the beauty and grace of two men in harmony, the shocking reality of violence, or the cruelty of a cockfight.
Using compositions by The Sweats, Nate Edmondson’s rich soundscape, and the terrific lighting design by Geoff Cobham enhance this production with clarity, atmosphere and breath-stealing tension, without ever demanding to be noticed.
Controversial and in your face, Mortido is thankfully, so much more than the politely entertaining theatre too often seen now. It has the courage to bring to the surface, the sludge of a problem long-hidden in our wonderful country, a problem that will not magically disappear by itself.
Plays like Mortido can change perspectives and open conversations that sometimes, might save a life. Bravo!! That’s the kind of legacy that good theatre deserves.
Mortido continues at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, at various times until Sat 31 Oct.
Book at BASS on 131 246 or bass.net.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Images courtesy of Shane Reid