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DIRECTOR: Greg Karvellis
CAST: Nicholas Pauling and Mark Elderkin
VENUE: Upstairs at the Alexander Bar
UNTIL: October 12
TWO MEN stumble out of a room, covered in blood, hyped up on adrenalin because they have just killed someone.
As the adrenalin and shock wears off, the two verbally spar. They talk around the actual act, but each changes in the eyes of the other as they rake up old wounds and create new ones… all in words.
Upstairs at the Alexander Bar makes a perfect setting for the genesis of this new work from playwright Louis Viljoen, stripped as the space is of all paraphernalia to suggest an empty room, complete with real street light streaming in through the window.
Yuri (Nicholas Pauling) and Shane (Mark Elderkin) are old friends, the kind bound by mutual messed-upness.
Ostensibly in “property development”, they are thugs in suits who live on the edge of not only what is legal, but also morally and socially acceptable.
Named for the cosmonaut, Yuri is the self-aware one who knows exactly what he is and relishes it. Named for a cowboy, Shane has to come to terms with what he has become – but where their interaction takes them is not apparent from the beginning.
There’s plenty of, “What do you mean?”, followed by: “What do you mean, what do I mean?”, which gets tired quickly. But this is the first incarnation of the play, it will still be tweaked. It starts to drag a bit three quarters of the way through because of repetition, but that will be ironed out.
As Shane calms down, Pauling becomes less fussy and more still until eventually he has pulled himself together into a different creature, looming over Yuri in a physical and mental sense.
Pauling’s diction and delivery is a thing of beauty – he makes of these horrible words a thing of prose, lulling you as he describes in graphic detail his work process and suggests a chilling version of property development and gentrification in this country.
This is no political statement, though, it is a character study and more predicated on the dialogue than the physical interaction of the characters even as the physical dynamic between the two changes.
Where Champ was deliciously foul-mouthed as it sought the painfully funny moments in the actors’ existence that got them to the next painful moment, Frontiersmen’s vocabulary is violent and nasty and steeped in the vocabulary of deliberately inflicted pain.
Darkly chilling, the words are the crux of the work – Viljoen loves the feel of words and director Greg Karvellis loves playing with how these words are enacted.
This may not, in Yuri’s words, be Reservoir Dogs, but it takes its cue from the works of Quentin Tarantino and his fellow exponents of excessive violence.
Frontiersmen makes for disturbing viewing because of the harshly visceral language.
Dialogue is delivered rapid-fire with the most innocent-seeming of questions cutting as harshly as swear words, as the two deliberately hurt each other, and your ears in the process.
This is unnerving torture porn on stage, without the actual blood, or at least not too much of it.
• Note, the play carries a 16 age restriction.