It’s tempting to use an art metaphor to blithely summarise Unfinished Works – but that wouldn’t do justice to the play’s supremely astute treatment of its subject matter, which warrants and deserves repeat viewings.
Frank (Lucy Goleby) is up against the wall of artistic inspiration, wasting away a deadline when she encounters the sycophantic, aspiring painter Isabel (Contessa Treffone). As Isabel navigates her relationship with Frank, the latter – a more successful artist – is coping with her drug-addled agent’s demands. Isabel encourages Frank to do something unthinkable and loathsomely pretentious that she could not get away with but for her admirers, compounded by her agent’s scant disregard for the actual quality of the work she slavishly produces, and the likes of Isabel’s parents, who only impart worth to art once someone else decides they want it.
Highlighting the failings of an industry deemed vacuous by the play, Unfinished Works is extraordinarily self-aware and addresses each facet of the profession. The play is tightly constructed, featuring five actors who share marvellous interplay and dialogue throughout. Treffone, by far the youngest performer is the stand-out of the cast, handling Isabel’s hefty character arc with aplomb and driving some of the play’s funniest and most vibrant moments. Rhett Walton as Isabel’s dad deftly manages the play’s most ironic segment as he imbues some of Frank’s artworks with new-found meaning, while Kyle Kazmarzik steals whole sequences as Frank’s boozy, cocaine-addled agent, in a David Tennant-esque performance which is both hilarious and moving when need be.
Set mostly in Marrickville, Unfinished Works, in no small part due to its local references and fond allusions to the inner-west, will play most strongly to an inner-city Sydney audience or those otherwise enamoured of the art scene. A cleverly-scripted comedy, the play loses its comic edge towards its later stages in favour of more pointed commentary and the conclusion of various story strands. Despite a welcome gag in the show’s final moments regarding abstract art, some more of the subtle comedy which so distinguished its earlier stages would not have gone amiss as the play wraps up in a counter-intuitive and altogether rewarding fashion.
One of the best-scripted new comedies to recently hit the theatre scene, Unfinished Works is a gem of a performance-piece whose multi-layered themes and intertwining storylines will have you speculating long after you’ve left.
Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5
Written by Thomas De Angelis
Directed by Clemence Williams
Featuring Lucy Goleby, Contessa Treffone, Deborah Galanos, Rhett Walton, and Kyle Kazmarzik
Seymour Centre, Chippendale
23 March – 2 April
Glen Falkenstein on ArtsHub