Sydney review - Hilarious hitmen
Jerry and Tom
By Rick Cleveland
Directed and produced by Maggie Scott
The Craftsman’s Bar,
The Exchange Hotel, Balmain
Season: 9 – 30 April
I am a sucker for a crime film packed with hit men, assassinations and good old New York accents. Insomniac Theatre’s Jerry and Tom was brimming with these features and it was a joy to be immersed in the world of hitmen, with surprisingly respectable family values.
This version of Rick Cleveland’s play provides ample action, violence, and comedy, keeping the audience hooked. Commencing with the chronological end, a man held captive tells jokes to two volatile hitmen, awaiting the phone call to finalise the hit. The amusing banality of this scene is juxtaposed with the impending violence to be triggered by the phone call, the black comedy of which characterises the entire play.
The non-linear structure allows the audience to piece together an understanding of the two protagonists, growing with them as the plot develops, with the drastic end point in mind.
Humour permeated the piece, which successfully kept the audience on board from beginning to end. The comedy is inextricable from the overall effect of the work, and is crucial to the audience stomaching the events being played out before them. The performers displayed immense focus in their characterisation, resulting in a highly engaging performance.
Unfortunately, in spite of excellent acting and characterisation, accent work was often insufficient. The New York accent is undoubtedly difficult to master, however the inconsistencies in accent drew from the overall effect.
Steve Maresca portrays the young and comparatively naïve Jerry, drawn into the hitman business through his relationship with the men at the used car dealership. It is fascinating to observe his increased captivation by the business as he becomes conditioned to accept the practices, void of compassion.
This climaxes in the scene where he describes his fantasies about murdering his family and the night where he toyed with the notion, holding a gun to his infant son’s head. As an audience member, in the midst of these dark themes, you still maintain a degree of sympathy for Jerry, at no point allowing hate to supersede your emotions for him.
This is achieved through humour and the apparent good nature of him, glimpses of which shine through in various scenes. This is a triumph of the play, sustaining audience sympathy for the main characters who perform despicable acts.
Boris Brkic takes on almost a Godfatheresque role on the stage as Tom, guiding Jerry towards success in the business and developing a strong working partnership. At points Brkic seemed comparable to Brando, effortless on stage and impeccably natural.
The aging process of Tom’s character was intriguing, exhibiting the shift of his bravado and self-perceived role in the business as he ages. The proposed possibility of a professional assassin residing in a condo near you is hilariously frightening, and Tom’s family-centric nature compels you to accept this possibility. The characters are well developed, partially attributable to Cleveland’s writing, and fully realised in the direction and acting. The audience is able to fully embrace the converging aspects and layers to each persona, accepting elements that would seem to ordinarily conflict.
Andrew Mead took on multiple roles throughout the piece, requiring formidable effort to develop complexity in each character. Each time he entered, he lit up the stage, exuding the character’s emotion with absolute certainty as an actor. He performed with tremendous energy and focus, enrapturing the audience. Being murdered multiple times was an integral element of his role, and an element he executed competently. With the stage being in such close proximity to the audience, violent murders are difficult to execute without looking corny and fake. Cunning directorial and lighting decisions, alongside Mead’s realistic ability to die, suspended audience engagement and believability of the proceedings.
Jerry and Tom was staged in The Craftsman’s Bar, a room just off from the main bar area in the Exchange Hotel. This performance space posed some challenges, yet were ultimately overcome through the strong performances of each actor. Minimalistic set design allowed for the flexibility of the play’s varied settings and didn’t crowd out the actors’ performances in the small space. Frequent scene changes called for prop and slight costume changes, which were conducted with relative ease. These aided illustration of character and time shifts in the play and I felt were suitable.
Jerry and Tom hit all the audience sweet spots, successfully complementing incredibly dark themes and deeds with comedy, achieved through complex characterisation. The ambiguity of black comedy is championed in the play, causing the audience to grapple with the conflicting emotions of sympathy with the figures they may identify with, yet with the abhorrence that arises from the dastardly actions performed. In this ambiguity, the audience is left questioning the boundaries of respectability and morality – perhaps we can identify with these hit men a little more than we may have first thought, and enjoy the comedy that emanates in the process.