By Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs. Lambert House Enterprises and Mardi Gras Festival. Director Les Solomon, El Rocco Theatre, Potts Point. Feb 17 – Mar 7, 2021.
Reviewed : 19 February, 2021
Les Solomon has directed yet another stunning piece of theatre to revive the pandemic ravaged Sydney theatre scene. He has followed up his tight, character-strong production of The Shape of Things with a delightfully intimate production of this multi-award-winning play by Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs.
Solomon describes Fag/Stag as a “wicked – sometimes raunchy – comedy” that follows the lives of Corgan and Jimmy, “two twenty-something guys – one gay, one straight – as they navigate their sex lives, friendship and ongoing first world problems”.
Fowler and Isaacs played these characters to acclaim at fringe festivals around Australia, before winning the esteemed Scotsman Fringe First at Edinburgh in 2017.
BUT … this is the first time the play has been performed by actors other than the playwrights themselves. So, taking it on might be considered a challenge.
Not to Solomon! With only ten days rehearsal and the confidence and ‘nous’ of years in the entertainment industry, his production is bright, funny, and incredibly taut. In the right space and with the right cast, it is a tribute to the playwrights and their crisp, bold, original script.
The small El Rocco theatre in Potts Point is the perfect space for a play that is so personal. Small and intimate, it allows the actors to connect confidentially with the audience. Solomon frames the performance space in white. Two chairs, two phones and a round table centre the action. The set is as tight and contained as the performance that ensues.
Samson Alston and Ryan Panizza play Corgan and Jimmy. They enter suddenly, biting lines deftly as they introduce themselves and set the moment. Their ex-girlfriend is getting married. They are both invited. Each sees a different predicament. But they don’t really discuss it with each other. Instead, they play Donkey Kong! It’s a diversion they retreat to often as they try to make sense of this moment in their lives.
Corgan is rich, straight, still feeling rejected, but sees himself in control. Alston shows this in a self-assurance that is a just a bit brittle. He is up-front with the audience, eager to share his feelings, even his vulnerability. Relatively new to the Sydney theatre scene, Alston is a talented, versatile performer who makes this character engagingly appealing.
Jimmy is a little older, confidently gay, but missing the lover he has recently rejected. In his Sydney stage debut, Panizza gives Jimmy a poised, confident buoyancy, capturing the audience with an openness that is eloquently persuasive. His performance is impressively contained and charismatically convincing.
Both performers make their characters real and lovable – just as Fowler and Isaacs wrote them. Their timing and variation of pace set a fast tempo. They break tensions with cleverly directed changes of delivery. They challenge the audience with a compelling directness that is only possible in such an intimate space. It is almost impossible to take your eyes off either of them.
Solomon saw this new interpretation of the play as “scary, exciting” but with these two dynamic performers he has achieved his aim of creating a production “that is funny, bold, yet in keeping with the brilliant original script”.