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Glenn Hazeldine and Georgie Parker in Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica. All images: STEVE LUNAM

POSTED: 21 SEPTEMBER 2010

Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica, by David Williamson | Directed by Sandra Bates

Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, Sydney | Until 14 November

Seeing a theatrical “world premiere” isn’t necessarily any big deal. After all, it only requires a local theatre to be the first to pick up a newly written play.

But when that play is the latest offering from David Williamson — arguably Australia’s pre-eminent playwright for nigh on 40 years — it is a big deal. Especially when Williamson and a cohort of family and friends have occupied the couple of rows directly in front of you.

Williamson has a knack for taking the commonplace, wringing buckets of humour from the situation, and doing so with a tenderness that can also sharply reflect the human condition.

In this case, the seed came from chatting with violinists from large orchestras: “The one thing they seemed to have in common was an acute dislike of country-and-western music, so of course my playwright’s mind started to say ‘What if?’.”

And, yes, Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica could be described, superficially at least, as a tale of two iPods.

Monica, brilliantly played by Georgie Parker, has been forced by RSI to abandon her career as a violinist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Her iPod is swollen with Mahler, Stravinsky, Bach...

She also wants a renovation job done on the kitchen of her Glebe terrace house.

Enter Gary (Glenn Hazeldine), your pretty basic, knockabout Australian tradie. His iPod has enough Dolly Parton, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash to bulge a dozen saddlebags.

Of course they’re going to clash ... and during the first act they clash fiercely indeed, with Monica, especially, delivering a barrage of one-liners that has the audience rollicking.

But, as in most good theatre, all is not quite as simple as it seems.

Gary moonlights as “Rhinestone Rex”, spinning discs and chatting country-and-western on community FM radio. He’s also a pretty sensitive kind of guy, and he uses his spot to philosophise about life in general and angst-ridden, intolerant Monica in particular. And he’s quite capable of building a facade of tall tales as a barrier around his insecurities.

So what about seemingly straight-laced Monica? She’s pushing a wheelbarrow of grudges, has a problem or two with alcohol, and seems to have had it off with most of the orchestra ... with a special fetish for the trombone section.

And can they get together? Of course they can. It’s as inevitable as Gary getting his way with plinths rather than legs under the kitchen cabinets.

If there’s a complaint about Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica, it’s that the play — somewhat like its title — is just a tad too long. It drags a bit towards the end and could just as easily finish when Gary throws Monica over his shoulder and carries her into the bedroom, rather than continuing into the last scene where Monica takes over the airwaves.

This is good, solid entertainment and well worth a trip to Kirribilli. And on opening night it was especially pleasing to see David Williamson totally immersed in the action and hear him roaring with laughter.

I reckon we can well forgive a playwright laughing at his own jokes, especially when they’re as good as Williamson’s and delivered by talents such as Parker and Hazeldine.

 

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