Oh man, I wanted to like We’re Bastards so much more than I actually did. I love domestic dramas. Small, intimate stories on stage are some of my favourites, particularly in small theatres, which is why I’m so fond of the Old 505 as a venue. When small stories on small stages are done well, they are electric. The feeling is so intimate that you’re almost part of it – at the very least, you can’t look away. Here, sadly, that was not the case. Although this show was only 75 minutes long, it was all too easy to look away.
We’re Bastards is a living room drama set in Alabama. Our central characters are Joey (Oleg Pupovac) and his sister Darling (Tara Clark). Together, they are parenting Darling’s baby Joshua, with her Baby Daddy (Luke Carson) a menacing but only occasional presence in their lives. It is a story about family and relationships. I was really excited that the relationship this show chose to focus on was a filial one, a type of love often neglected in favour of the romantic variety.
But although I wanted this show to be awesome, it just didn’t work for me. While there were some occasional captivating moments – I really liked the scene where Joey and Darling exchanged Christmas presents, for example – We’re Bastards fell kind of flat for me. I felt that both of the central characters were quite two-dimensional, despite the space and time they had to develop their relationship. This was especially true of Joey: while writer-actor Oleg Pupovac imbued him with some stale-Jack-Daniels-breath menace, I felt like he never really went anywhere as a character.
Darling’s arc was better, but not much. I felt like the play got bogged down in the swamp that it occasionally refers to. And while this feeling of being stuck is one that can be powerfully dramatically rendered, this sense did not gel well with the ending of the play at all. The conclusion should have been shocking, a real hand-to-the-mouth oh-no-did-that-just-happen moment. It should have been the kind of ending that is visceral, almost like being punched in the stomach. Instead… it was kind of hard to care, really. It was a blindside ending that would have been way, way more effective if we had any notion something like this was coming. The idea of God was introduced late in the piece as a justification, but it really was kind of a deus ex machina. (Or maybe the opposite? diabolus ex machina?) The character arcs needed to be much better structured for the ending to have the desired effect.
Maybe the problem with the show was that it focused on the wrong character. While it is largely a two-hander, I think it’s safe to argue that Joey was the protagonist. If that place had belonged to the more interesting Darling, maybe the show would have been better for it. The moments when We’re Bastards was at its strongest and most interesting was when Darling tried to stand up to the men in her life, whether Joey or Baby Daddy. The construction of that Deep South misogyny was really strong, that kind of retrosexual masculinity echoed by the presence of the Confederate flag on the set. If Darling had been our way into the piece, maybe some of the more interesting plot points would have been thrown into sharper relief.
There are some interesting moments in We’re Bastards, but overall, it didn’t work for me. (Also, there were moments when Darling said the word “no” which sounded for all the world like she was Eliza Doolittle pre-Higgins – sometimes the accents were credible, and sometimes they really weren’t.) I’m looking forward to seeing what the Old 505 does next in its inaugural subscription season, but this one was really not my favourite.
Two Peas presents
by Oleg Pupovac
Director Glen Hamilton
Venue: Old 505 Theatre | 505/342 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills NSW
Dates: 5 – 23 February 2014
Tickets: $28 – $18