Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica

By David Williamson. Ensemble Theatre, Sydney. Directed by Mark Kilmurry. 10 March – 28 April 2023

Reviewed : 15 March, 2023 *

Photo : Prudence Upton

This is one of David Williamson’s best plays. It’s a two hander, and that has given him more time to flesh out the characters and make his one-liners extend into clever repartee. Like all good comedy, it’s best played fast with the occasional pithy pause and short, telling silence. It’s an actor’s play, first performed at the Ensemble in 2010 by Georgie Parker and Glen Hazeldine. Director Mark Kilmurry has enticed them back to reintroduce the unlikely duo of Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica, but, from their pacy, animated performance on opening night, I don’t think they needed much enticing!

Photo : Prudence Upton

Parker is Monica. Once a classical violinist with the Sydney Symphony orchestra, she’s been unable to play for thirteen years due to RSI in her left shoulder. She’s intelligent, attractive and very astute. She lives alone in in a stylish one-bedroom apartment (designed with meticulous eye to detail by Veronique Benett). It’s small, compact, but the kitchen needs renovating and she’s seeking quotes.

Enter Hazeldine as Rex. He’s a wannabe country and western singer and guitarist who once almost made it on the Tamworth scene.  He’s loud, jovial, a bit too confident, a fast talker – and Monica has, reluctantly, accepted his quote.

When work commences and she comes home to a blast of country music, she draws the battlelines. It’s her house. She hates country and western music, and she won’t have it played. Then she tries to introduce Rex to Mahler …

Photo : Prudence Upton

Williamson has taken the age-old ‘opposites attract’ theme and made it into a classic comedy and framed it with music – and hammering and drilling from the off-stage kitchen. The play needs to move quickly, and, with these two clever, experienced performers, Kilmurry pushes the action with a practised hand.

Georgie Parker reaches inside Monica to find the disappointed concert performer who lost not only her proud place as second violinist, but her marriage to the conductor. She also finds her strengths – assurance, tenacity perception. She’s not going to let this country music tradesman get at her … until she they meet for dinner and her drinking problem is revealed! Parker says as much with words as she does with gestures and looks – a tilt of the chin, raised eyebrows, a flash of her blue eyes … and perfectly timed pauses.

Pauses in which Hazeldine reacts with knowing smirks or quizzical disbelief or even a bit of bluster. There is not much that can break the confidence of the Rex he plays – and what’s more he is determined to win over this striking woman.

Photo : Prudence Upton

Things begin to come to a head as Rex takes off a week from the renovation to look after his intellectually challenged son during the school holidays. Except he’s really going to Tamworth to take over a vacant spot on the local radio station as DJ Rhinestone Rex. That ‘spot’ is usually a classical music program … a favourite with Monica. Unfortunately she’s tuned in – and is not happy when Rhinestone tells the audience about the ice lady he’s met recently.

Thus Williamson sets the scene for a love affair that ‘beat shifts’ between country and classics – between Dolly Parton and Gustav Mahler, Tammy Wynette and JS Bach – and a snatch of Casey Chambers. The music sets the tempo … and sound designer Daryl Wallace and lighting designer Trudy Dalgleish play along, catching the twin atmospheres and the quirky changes in mood and emotion.

Parker and Hazeldine are exciting to watch in this tight, carefully blocked and skilfully executed production – and it’s a lot of fun!

* Opening Night