Driving through the Otways one stormy night, mining magnate Harry hits a rare tiger quoll – the first to be seen in the area in 10 years.
Volunteer wildlife carer Piper (Ngaire Dawn Fair) meets him at the local vet clinic and applies first aid but then vet Andy arrives and declares euthanasia is the kindest option.
Already the first of many battle lines have been drawn.
Add in some university politics, some sexual tension, several complex relationships plus Harry's sentimental urge to save the quoll, and Helpmann award-winning playwright Hannie Rayson creates a vehicle to examine a whole range of modern issues, such as the values we place on life, our lifestyles, the environment and our ethics.
But any preconceived ideas viewers may have – or stereotypes they may be tempted to assume – will be tested and challenged time and time again before any tensions are resolved.
If we only have ability to save limited species, who decides the priorities? Are humans and pets subject to the same rules? In a world where man's actions affect almost everything, when do we stop interfering? What role does money play in those decisions, and when it comes to vital work, like saving lives and fixing the environment, is there such a thing as dirty money?
The cast of four all work equally brilliantly.
Colin "Lano" Lane as mining CEO Harry Jewell plays to his strengths with perfect timing as he delivers the many one liners he is gifted but manages the serious stuff just as well. Ngaire Dawn Fair is delightfully bright and uncomplicated as idealistic student Piper, while Natasha Herbert is scarily credible as researcher turned University powerbroker Heather Dixon-Brown. Possibly the greatest acting challenges are faced – and met – by Brett Cousins as vet Andy, who is facing his own personal equivalent of climate change as well as caring deeply about local and global issues.
The set manages much with minor juggling of a few chairs, a desk and a vet's table, with scene-change distractions and background setting provided by a flashing collage of rainforest and city images, accompanied by music by Paul Grabowsky.
Nadia Tass's direction is so instinctive and discreet that the story captivates you without noticing the machinations.
But the hero of the piece – alongside the rare tiger quoll – is Rayson's rare gift for writing, blending humour, social commentary, environmental issues and matters of life and death without judgement or bias, in a way that encourages both sides of the highly divided debate to reconsider their prejudices and convictions.
"I've never even heard of a spotted quoll," was a comment made as the audience rose to leave.
Extinction only runs for five nights, so grab a chance to see it – and a quoll – while you can.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre presents
by Hannie Rayson
Directed by Nadia Tass
Venue: Fairfax Studio | Arts Centre Melbourne, St Kilda Road, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 9 – 13 August 2016
Tickets: $40 – $55
Bookings: 1300 182 183 | artscentremelboure.com.au