A Hoax begins with a birth of sorts. A writer paces the stage, words and voices swirling around him like potion ingredients in a wizard’s cauldron… And Currah is born.
Currah is Nobody’s Girl, a young half-Aboriginal woman who endured years of ongoing sexual abuse from her white father.
Currah is also, like Nobody’s Girl, the tell-all memoir written under her name, a work of fiction.
Both are the product of the imagination of social worker-aspiring writer Anthony Dooley (Glenn Hazeldine) who, to complete the deception, enlists a girl to play the part of the troubled Currah. Miri Smith (Shari Sebbens), for her part, has the appearance of being thoroughly untroubled. Left alone in Anthony’s hotel room, she takes to bouncing excitedly on the bed – a literal picture of one unable to appreciate the gravity of her situation.
In the opening interaction between these two, playwright Rick Viede draws cheeky parallels to a much more familiar type of sordid hotel room transaction. Prostitution provides a fitting analogy for their initial powerplay. Soon, though, hard-nosed publisher Ronnie (Sally McKenzie) and her African-American transgender assistant Tyrelle (Charles Allen) are knotted in the mess, and the question of who’s using whom becomes increasingly tricky.
The part-Pygmalion, part-Frankenstein relationship between the creator and his out-of-control creation is inevitably the most interesting element in A Hoax. It is, after all, a story of a man and a woman who complete one another. Both actors bring their distinctive energies to the dynamic. Sebbens spurts filth with the perky wide-eyed innocence of Zooey Deschanel – sometimes she herself seems surprised by what comes out of her mouth – while Hazeldine has perfected the desperate look of a man adrift. There’s a nice moment where he stands, pen in hand, beholding Currah in front of him, and you can practically hear the internal chorus sing: What hast thou wrote?
In contrast to the opening scenes of the play, at the beginning of the second half Currah has a mind and life of her own, and it’s not too long after this point that A Hoax
loses its gripping forward momentum. The audience anticipates the moment Currah’s unflinchingly honest story is revealed to be, well, exactly not
that, with equal dread and excitement. But the ultimate detonation of these accumulated tensions is, without giving anything away, too extreme to register on a human level. In a story taking truth and truthiness
as its theme, too much of the drama of its climactic moments fails to ring true, and raising late-in-the-game questions about characters’ motivations only serves to frustrate.
It seems that even as the script slumps, director Lee Lewis becomes more vigorous and inventive with her visual and physical storytelling: her staging of Anthony’s breakdown is almost as interesting as the woozy aftermath when he cloaks himself in a bed-sheet. That said, reforming the production for the SBW Stables stage (co-produced as it is by La Boite with Griffin, A Hoax has already played Brisbane) seems to have resulted in a couple of moments of back-to-half-the-audience blocking.
Considered line for naughty line, A Hoax is hugely enjoyable. In fact (and this is why this review gets its four-star rating and a sincere recommendation) it will likely be the wittiest play you’ll see all year. Especially in the hands of Sebbens and Hazeldine, there’s no denying that Viede’s writing is elegant and cat claw-sharp. A Hoax just needs a new overall plan of attack if there’s to be any chance of drawing blood, which was its clear intention.