David Williamson’s 1981 five hander, The Perfectionist, as presented by Adapt Enterprises, is the story of married couple Barbara (Cheryl Douglas) and Stuart (Ross Vosvotekas), two academics living in Denmark to focus on Stuart’s PhD. Set in the 1970s, the couple are working towards an elusive finish line, making compete about the importance of their study, with Stuart’s taking precedence due to the pair having three children.
Frustrated by the lack of equality, bored by her idle time in Denmark, and annoyed by her pedant husband’s perfectionism, Barbara hires a babysitter to take care of the children so she can focus on her own pursuits. Coincidentally, she starts reading a book on the benefits of an open marriage at the same time as she hires attractive, politically progressive male housekeeper, Erik (Chris Knight).
After inevitably falling for the babysitter, the couple return to Australia under the agreement Stuart will ‘allow’ Barbara to work on her thesis. It is there that we meet Stuart’s controlling, chauvinistic father (Rick Mills) and alcoholic mother (Kim York). Stuart’s perfectionism has now turned to being the ideal father, yet Barbara is still not satisfied and our attention is turned to the flaws in the marriage, as well as the play’s themes of feminism, class structure, sexism, alcoholism, and competitiveness. Then Erik arrives in Australia to upturn the plot again.
The fact that it took three paragraphs to summarise the plot, shows the play is already flawed, with far too many twists and turns and no absolute focus on what it wants to achieve. Is it discussion on open marriage? Is it the mighty fight against capitalism? Is it gender equality? Williamson has decided to give all of them an airing in The Perfectionist, which makes it a tricky play to undertake and in need of some skilled directing.
Douglas, as Barbara tackles the challenge with grace and poise, playing her role with conviction, and was a delight to watch. Vosvotekas seemed somewhat stilted in the role, but shone in the lighter moments, and is possibly better suited to comedic characters. Knight played Erik beautifully, giving Douglas plenty to work with – the couple creating genuine chemistry on stage. Mills, as Stuart’s father, Jack was steadfast and surly, providing much of the tension in the play, and York, as Shirley, was stunning as the miserable failed actress who could have been a star, if it weren’t for Jack.
The play is a series of very short scenes with the exception of a couple of very long, dialogue-rich ones. It seemed there needed to be a few more costume changes in Act One to indicate the change of day, week, even month; to make the narrative a little easier to follow. Having said that, the collection of seventies garb worn by the cast, as designed by Amanda Jane Bell, was fabulous, particularly Shirley’s wardrobe.
Aside from a few issues with paintings not being swapped, the set changes created a reasonable contrast between Denmark, Australia, and the two couples’ houses. The loud seventies music between scenes had a few nostalgic favourites in there.
The Perfectionist isn’t a perfect play, and isn’t Williamson’s best, but it does bring to the fore some issues that are still prevalent today, that are in desperate need of change. This was evident in the ‘hoots’ of support from the row in front of me, whenever Stuart said something chauvinistic, which was often.
Williamson makes you think; that’s the beauty of his work, and The Perfectionist will give you plenty to think about. It’s a fun play with some lovely moments and is showing until August 8th.
Read our interview with Director/Producer/Actor Ross Vosvotekas here.
WHAT: David Williamson’s The Perfectionist
WHERE: Bakehouse Theatre, 255 Angas Street, Adelaide
WHEN: July 24th & 25th, 29th – 31st + August 1st, 5th – 8th (Duration: approx. 2.5 hours)
HOW MUCH? $20
Reviewed by Libby Parker