Big Al & The Centenarian

Big Al  & The Centenarian are two one-act dark comedies that share an interest in the human desire for status. They also share actor Vincent Andriano on one of the most eye-catching posters I’ve seen for some time.

Big Al The Centenarian
Big Al The Centenarian

Bryan Goluboff’s Big Al is a two-hander that takes place in the New York apartment of Leo (Andriano), beginning around midnight with Leo viewing Scarface and mimicking Al Pacino lines. Roused from bed by a call from Leo earlier in the night, his friend Ricky (Shane Savage) arrives to hear Leo’s big news: the pair have an opportunity to pitch a screenplay to Pacino’s production company. Fortunately Leo knows what makes Big Al tick, and when the film is made he will finally be a part of his hero’s life.

All they need to do is get it written before they are forgotten.

The imagined deadline gives Andriano the chance to exhibit manic enthusiasm for the emerging script and be driven to despair by obstacles, and he shines in his elastic performance. The script of Big Al appears to be much less rewarding for Ricky, but I don’t think it was necessary to place the character in such a reactive role and I didn’t get a sense of Ricky and Leo having a shared history. As their friendship started back in school, Ricky should be well aware of his friend’s bipolar tendencies and so the character seemed quite naive in how he chose to quickly join in and amplify Leo’s excitement, rather than smoothing the oscillations of Leo’s emotional bungee jump. As a black comedy, the piece appealed to the audience, with laughs arising from Leo’s game of “What will you do to get the film made”, before it becomes clear that he was serious about his oaths, which escalate towards a threatening snap.

Next was Philip Ryall’s The Centenarian, a two-hander plus a grandma, that also considers social aspirations and our need for respect. In the suburbs of Sydney in 1978, Clive (Andriano) lives with his wife Shirl (Sarah Hallam) under her grandmother’s roof. Gran is soon to turn 100 and the doting couple are making preparations for the party. They’ve been her carers for a while, years longer than they expected when they agreed to move in to cut costs, and Gran has not always been appreciative. But, they have a bit to gain from Gran’s 100th and there might yet be a chance of a windfall compensating them for years of servitude.

There are some genuinely amusing scenes as Clive and Shirl try to work out how they can get the best outcome from their circumstances. I particularly enjoyed their rehearsal for the party, their imagined conversations with invited guests revealing relationship tensions. Scenes where Shirl speaks as Gran allow her to share her burdens of squandered opportunity and regrets over decisions made. Shane Savage’s direction gives us desperate people in an extreme situation and maintains credibility by restraining the scenes from becoming farce.

A special mention is due to the graphic designer Simon Hedt and the set designer Tom Higgs. Details from cigarette butts stubbed out around Leo’s sink to Gran and her spoon collection enhanced the mood of the works, and it was unfortunate I only was able to take in some of these details when going to and from my seat.

I encourage those curious about short plays to (ahem) “Say hello to my little friend(s)” and head out to Chapel off Chapel soon as the show has a very short run. Perhaps a certain coffee company featuring Big Al in their ads would appreciate the opportunity to sponsor a return season?


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