Rope Burn is not a play about death. It is a play about more than not wanting to die - it is a play about desperately, passionately wanting to live, and how difficult it is to accept that death is a reality, not just in the distant future but perhaps just around the corner. It is about friends, about not being alone, and about how being frightened is okay. Ava Karuso's script is a gutsy look at what it means to be given a death sentence, not just for the person who is going to die but the people around them.
Rope Burn is the story of best mates Ben (Paul Musumeci) and Michael (Sam Glissan). Michael has been diagnosed with liver cancer. It's bad. He sternly orders Ben that he is not to treat him any differently. Ben acquiesces, in the process entering into a relationship with a girl with a terminal disease and trying to help Michael decide whether or not he really does need to get a mail order bride. Michael's refusal to let Ben treat him like he is dying - his insistence on being alive while he still can - poses big questions for Ben: namely, how he is supposed to live when the people he loves are gone.
The real standout in this play is Sam Glissan as Michael. He delivers an absolute tour de force performance: comic, tragic, moving, gut-wrenching, and 100% real. I've never seen him on stage before and very much hope that this is not the only time. He is perhaps a little too explosively shout-y at the very beginning of the show, but otherwise, he totally owns this role. This show is worth seeing for his performance alone and he is definitely an actor to watch in the future. Paul Musumeci as Ben was a little more skittish - he really needs to slow down the delivery of some of his lines, as it got quite difficult to understand them in places - but also turned in a solid performance. Arguably, both actors looked a little young for their roles (they're both supposed to be uni graduates, I gather), but there is a lot to like here in the acting department.
I also really enjoyed Karuso's script. I thought it could stand a little editing - the show ran an hour and twenty minutes, which I think could be brought down to an hour - but it has all the makings of a wonderful script. Karuso understands that more tragic depths can be plumbed through comedy than through tear-jerking sappiness. Technically, Rope Burn is a black comedy, and that is absolutely the right genre with which to treat this kind of topic. It had a wonderful humanity about it: laughing in the face of futility, defiantly living in the face of death. I really hope to see more of Karuso's work in the future.
I also really liked the Nintendo motif that ran through the show: I'm not normally a huge fan of multimedia on the stage, but the little Nintendo scenes that ran during the scene changes were wonderful. Rope Burn is not perfect - I think it could probably stand a little more development - but it is a very good show indeed. It is dynamic, comic, tragic, and deeply, deeply human. This one should definitely be part of your Fringe festival.
Written by Ava Karuso
Dates: 19 - 23 September
Venue: King Street Theatre, Newtown