Odd Man Out, by David Williamson | Directed by Mark Kilmurry

Ensemble Theatre (http://ensemble.com.au) | Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, Sydney | Until 18 March

David Williamson is widely regarded as one of the most successful, prolific and performed Australian playwrights of the 20th century.  His plays have covered many issues and social concerns throughout the decades, but in 2017 Williamson tells us that his major concern is social psychology.

This concern is revealed through the story of Ryan (Justin Stewart Cotta) and Alice (Lisa Gormley), who meet on a bus. Ryan, a security expert, is instantly besotted by Alice and he convinces her to go on a date with him.

Ryan is wealthy, intelligent, enthusiastic about life, science, the arts, cars, in fact everything.  Alice is in her late 30s, and is more than ready to embrace marriage and motherhood, and so a romance eventuates. However, the stress levels in their relationship increase as Ryan’s asperger’s condition is revealed.

Justin Stewart Cotta powerfully personifies a pedant and through his nuanced and multi-layered performance we are able to get a forensic insight into this debilitating and socially crippling condition.

The ups and downs of their relationship reveal not only the complex nature of Ryan’s disability, but Alice’s valiant and clever attempts to find solutions and a common ground. Gormley precisely plays and shades this everywoman, who feels her way through this complex relationship using her impressive organizational skills.

The supporting cast shade in the backstory. Gael Ballantyne, as Ryan’s mother, poignantly describes his childhood where he was cruelly teased by other children, whilst Rachel Gordon and Matt Minto, as the superficial social friends, provide the humorous situations where Ryan’s remarkable honesty and intense focus causes laugh-out-loud embarrassment.

Anna Gardiner’s cubist set strikes the perfect balance of functional and symbolism, and allows Mark Kilmurry’s  detailed and thoughtful direction to make positive use of the small stage, ensuring smooth and speedy transitions that facilitate the pace of the plot.

As the title signals, this is a play that looks at the quest for self-esteem, for love and the difficulties encountered when seeking social acceptance. As always in a Williamson play, a by-product of the drama is profound and philosophical social commentary that offers the audience a meditation about their humanity.

While Odd Man Out may not be considered among the best of Williamson’s work, it still presents as a highly satirical piece of theatre on a relevant social matter and is certainly worth a look.

Above: Justin Stewart Cotta and Lisa Gormley. Below: Justin Stewart Cotta and Rachel Gordon. Images: Clare Hawley.