Above left: Caroline Craig, Damian de Montemas, Katharine Cullen, Ben Mortley. Above right: Katharine Cullen, Ben Mortley, Damian de Montemas, Caroline Craig. Images: Natalie Boog.


Between Us, by Joe Hortua

Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, Sydney | Until 11 September

Between Us is a clever, witty, thought-provoking, if slightly melodramatic, piece of work by American playwright Joe Hortua. Director Jennifer Don’s presentation is near flawless, with the vehemence and desperation occasionally flowing off the small Ensemble stage and almost enveloping the audience.

Joel (Damian de Montemas) and Carlo (Ben Mortley) are photographers who were great mates at college, both pursuing an artistic dream.

But when they meet for dinner a few years later in Joel’s Mid-West apartment, “on the edge of the tundra”, their paths have clearly diverged.

Carlo is blissfully in love with his wife Grace (Katharine Cullen) who’s pregnant with their first child. He’s on the verge of major artistic recognition and the couple look the part.

Joel has succumbed to the lure of commercial photography, spending hours getting pictures of dripping honey just right. He’s making plenty of money; he and his wife Sharyl (Caroline Craig) have already had a child.

But they’re certainly not happy. Indeed, their antagonism towards each other is palpable ... and so so lucidly expressed by Craig’s cold-blooded stares even before the rot sets in.

And boy, does the rot set in. In short, Joel makes a complete, violent ass of himself. His friendship with Carlo and his marriage are in tatters.

Fast forward a few years, when Joel and Sharyl drop in unexpectedly to Carlo’s and Grace’s New York apartment.

Joel has experienced an epiphany, given up the booze, patched up with Sharyl to the point that they’re gooingly sickly ... and the chauffeur waiting outside is testament to their ever-increasing wealth. And he’d like to patch up with Carlo.

But life hasn’t been kind to Carlo and Grace. He hasn’t made the cut in the art world, she’s back working as a waitress, and they’re hugely in debt. Trackies and ugg boots? You’re right, they no longer look the part.

This time the tension arises from a mix of Joel’s generosity, Carlo’s desperation, Grace’s pride and Sharyl’s unwillingness, possibly quite understandably, to give away any of their hard-earned.

And once again the vindictives and the home truths fly.

While Between Us is a tale about making the best of your choices, about the pursuit of artistic integrity versus the need to financially survive, about trying to maintain worthwhile relationships, its main focus may actually be in the title itself.

So much of the trauma comes from the breaking of perceived trust ... between Carlo and Grace, Joel and Sharyl, Carlo and Joel ... of opening to others what was thought to be just “between us”.

This is the sort of fine, well written, well acted entertainment that the Ensemble seems to do so very well.

And if you’re interested in home makeovers, resist the bar and remain seated to see stage manager Philip Costello do his stuff during intermission.

Above: Caroline Craig. Below: Katharine Cullen, Damian de Montemas, Ben Mortley. Images: Natalie Boog.