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POSTED: 20 AUGUST 2010

The Schelling Point, by Ron Elisha

Chester Productions & Tamarama Rock Surfers | Old Fitzroy Hotel. Woolloomooloo, Sydney | Until 11 September

This is the world premiere of Ron Elisha’s original, humorous, expansive play about the politics of chance, logic and rationality and the male pysche.

This fascinating play spans the period of the Cuban Mission Crisis and, in essence, deals with the concept introduced by the American economist Thomas Schelling in his book The Strategy of Conflict (1960) — that like-minded individuals easily generate strong Schelling Points around common themes.

It tackles this intriguing theme by pursuing the discussions between Tom Schelling, John F Kennedy and Robert McNamara.

But the play is multi-stranded. Schelling influences both the White House and Stanley Kubrick, who is writing and directing on the set of Dr Strangelove, his farce about a nuclear apocalypse.

Kubrick had a fascination with human behaviour and was manipulative and controlling in his personal and working life. He attempted to eliminate the unpredictable in his life and thus consulted with Schelling on the script.

Ironically, the cast of Strangelove includes a manic Peter Sellers and a pessimistic George C Scott, both of whom are having trouble with wives, girlfriends, actresses.

The conversations are imagined and intimate, fuelled by large quantities of alcohol. The dialogue is totally engrossing; it sparkles with witty verbal acrobatics. The cast don’t miss a beat. Their timing is superb in the delivery of their lines and there are a host of pulsating performances.

David Callan appears to be channeling Peter Sellers, so convincing is his portrayal, but at the same time investing his own charisma to bring out Sellers’ central contradiction.

Daniel Cordeaux realistically embodies a melancholic George C Scott.

Every actor gives a impressive performance, but particular mention should go to Jamie McGregor whose realistic JFK is played with carefully measured gravitas and joviality.

Elisha has beautifully combined domestic, artistic, political and moral issues. While establishing the gravity of the crisis we are still allowed to enter into the personal world of the Secretary of State. It is a performance that portrays subtle dimensions.

This ability to move between personal and public issues is wonderfully manipulated by Sarah Goodes’ visionary direction, which creates the atmosphere of a controlled dream.

Marissa Dale-Johnson’s clever set design is dominated by a backdrop of a Risk-style global map with a black-and-white chequered floor on which the players move.

An upper level has a media screen running newsreels from the era, and doubles as a stage for The Singer (Miss Lauren La Rouge) who punctuates the narrative with dreamy cadences of Frank Sinatra songs. These interludes set the period, tone and mood of the scenes and provide pertinent and poignant transitions from the two worlds that are occurring simultaneously.

Eruptions into song and dance provide heightened realism with the male characters providing a chorus line for The Singer — and much of the humour.

But despite the often comical interaction of the characters, there is still the presence of a darker premise.

This high-quality play is unsettling for a reviewer — how to do it justice? Simply put, just go and see it. You won’t be disappointed.