Martin and Stefan sit naked in a steamy bath together. They are talking as if it were a bus stop. Unassuming, unaffected, unaware. Jaded, clearly; a world-weariness between them. Comically nonchalant.
But this is no skit. There's something much more here, but the journey is unnervingly, curiously enigmatic. (Particularly to anyone who saw the first of two Brisbane performances from this British two-man theatre troop that goes by the name of Ridiculusmus: the high-farce romp of The Importance of Being Earnest. This is solar systems away.)
Martin is a lawyer by day, a drug dealer by night; a middle-aged ex-rent boy turned boy-chaser. From a troubled childhood in Germany, he is now strangely at home in Bangkok's seedy after-dark underworld: the back alleys and girly-boy clubs and bathhouses. He has done things, seen things, unseemly and abhorrent things, but is seemingly numb to most of it.
It is in one of these bathhouses he meets Stefan. A compatriot, "straight" and married back home, he is not only numb to the macabre, he relishes it. He embodies the German philosophy of schadenfreude: taking pleasure from the pain and misery of others. He talks of visiting Nazi death camps as if they were Disneyland. A writer, coldly curious, he mines Martin for the real-life horror stories he craves.
So begins a remarkable 80-minute conversation. Right there in the bath. On movies and pop culture, on African genocide and geo-political matters, on sex - lots of sex, vividly related (this is not a play for the kids) - on drugs, dancing, relationships - hook-ups, mostly - and the longing of two discontented minds fumbling towards each other in the dark for...something. Something more than this.
It is rapid-fire, stream-of-consciousness discourse, smart and darkly comic. As the alcohol soaks in, as the ecstasy pill they pop takes effect, this meandering conversation takes on a shocking, more desperate tone. It moves its audience, often uncomfortably, yet it is bitter-sweet in its own curious way.
These are rich characters, unlikable on the surface yet charmingly played by two very good theatrical performers in David Woods (as Stefan) and Jon Hough (as Martin). It is a feat of script memory if nothing else, but their ability to simmer the tension for so long, revealing even more of these naked men layer by layer for almost an hour and a half of intermission-free play, belies the frivolity their name suggests.
Last week with the help of Oscar Wilde they proved themselves adept slapstick performers. Tough Time Nice Time goes so much deeper to present a piece of original adult theatre unlike anything Brisbane audiences have seen.
And how often can you say that?
Brisbane Powerhouse and Ridiculusmus Theatre Company present
Tough Time Nice Time
Venue: Powerhouse Theatre
Dates: Feb 17 - 22, 2009
Tickets: Full $39, Conc $31