Maggie Stone review: The slow softening of hard Maggie Stone

MAGGIE STONE

Eternity Playhouse, October 9

Darlinghurst Theatre Company's <i>Maggie Stone</i>, starring Branden Christine and Thoso Lekwape.

Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Maggie Stone, starring Branden Christine and Thoso Lekwape. Credit:© Robert Catto / robertcatto.com

★★★½

She's as hard as her surname. On the surface. Beneath that lie various strata of gravel, grit and dirt, and it's only deeper still you hit the little seams of guilt, vulnerability and compassion. It's not easy being Maggie Stone: bank loans officer, sick, lonely woman and racist in Australia's proud tradition.

<i>Maggie Stone</i> mines seams of guilt, vulnerability and compassion.

Maggie Stone mines seams of guilt, vulnerability and compassion.Credit:© Robert Catto / robertcatto.com

As Maggie changes priorities and exhumes her soul, Caleb Lewis' play (in its Sydney premiere from Darlinghurst Theatre Company) comes dangerously close to being primarily issues-based, with plot and characters pasted on to serve the Righteous Cause. Except he's more cunning than that, crafting​ a piece about debt, charity, greed, empathy, hypocrisy and selflessness, and yet presenting it within a narrative that has commonalities​ with Scandi-noir thrillers. Some feat, that.

In fact the play cries out to be filmed, not just because of Lewis' propensity for short scenes that jostle the story along, but because sometimes we crave to know what happens between scenes, and a film would further open up these possibilities.

Meanwhile, it works just fine on stage, and would be even better were half a dozen lame lines cut, that jar with both the characterisations and the play's overall tone.

Sandra Eldridge has cast and directed her production astutely, if not flawlessly. Eliza Logan, carrying the weight of the work as Maggie, initially struggles to portray the character's hardness without a certain woodenness. But as Maggie evolves, so Logan's performance becomes more compelling, and deeper into the run she may well solve how to be severe without being stilted.

Branden​ Christine lights up the stage as the demure, proud, half-broken, half-resilient Amath​ Deng, a Sudanese refugee in a country that manages to match every hospitable act with two inhospitable ones – often just through ignorance of how best to help.

Georgina brings all the arrogance of faith to her certainty of how to do that: a version of Christian charity centred on making herself feel good (and Lewis' dig at the aid industry). Yet Anna Lee imbues Georgina with such vivacity that her stoushes​ with Maggie throw a light, entertaining veneer over the deeper hypocrisies. Thoso​ Lekwape​ doubles the roles of Benny Deng and his father so convincingly you'd hardly know it was the same actor, Kate Bookallil​ is the put-upon Syrian shopkeeper, and Alan Dukes exudes menace as Leo, the loan-shark with the heart of mould.

Until October 21.

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