Bordertown walks the line between comedy and drama, and while it succeeds with getting laughs, the darkness in this black comedy, suicide, is dealt with so flippantly that the work is decidedly light on truth.
The South Australian Playwrights Theatre serves a laudable purpose: bringing original and local plays to the stage. The most original component of Bordertown, though, is the setting: the regional hairdressing salon of Patricia, played by Katie O’Reilly, a recipient of fifteen minutes of fame who seeks to attract a little more spotlight vicariously through her daughter, Flick (Katherine Sortini), by sending her off to LA, where she meets down-and-out comedian Tyrone (Stephen Tongun) .
The story, about a naïve girl from another world being duped by a troubled celebrity is the premise of all four versions of A Star Is Born. Bordertown differs markedly, though, from the most recent incarnation of A Star Is Born, because the Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga smash is a palpably real depiction of addiction, emotional abuse, narcissism and suicide. Bordertown’s depiction of Flick’s demise at her own hand is so shallow as to render it an afterthought. There isn’t a single tear shed, either by Flick in the moments preceding the act, or by her mother at the funeral. When using mental illness as a device in an artistic work, there is some duty to depict this subject matter accurately, or else contribute to stigma and misconception.
It’s clear from the none-too-subtle exposition of the characters that this is a work that is centrally concerned with advancing a thesis regarding the perils of the quest for fame in a land of tall poppy syndrome. Playwright Matt Hawkins, whose credits include The Micallef Program, who plays Tyron’s agent Randy Jensen, sets the work pre-Instagram. Fame has changed in the social media age, though, and so the play is not as current as it could be.
The comedy in Bordertown is mostly a success, particularly the physical work and facial expressiveness of Andrew Crupi as Dennis the taxi driver. Katie O’Reilly and Katherine Sortini work well together as the Kath and Kim style mother-daughter bogans, while Stephen Tongun is charming as Tyrone, although perhaps not quite despicable enough.
The lack of emotional depth beneath the caricatures, though, means you might not want to stop off at Bordertown, even if the petrol light is flashing and you really need to stretch your legs.
Reviewed performance: 27 February 2020