Identity and family are the key ingredients in the incendiary world premiere comedic drama Flake, written by Dan Lee and co-created by Chi Nguyen.
With fine direction from Ella Caldwell, the cast does a mighty job bringing to life the story of two 68-year-old Aussie mates and a young Vietnamese woman.
Surly and sickly, Bob (Robert Menzies) has lived in Vietnam for 15 plus years and on the outskirts of Hanoi for at least 10 of those years.
Murph (Joe Petruzzi), an inveterate traveller, drinker and womaniser, is visiting him when he puts the moves on a young woman, Duyen (Phoebe Phuoc Nguyen).
Duyen was born in Vietnam, but shifted to Melbourne to study, before returning home.
Bob has a wonderful, acerbic command of the English language and uses it with maximum impact, calling out Murph for his cradle snatching ways.
Notwithstanding the truth of that remark, Murph is a much simpler soul, with a love of life and penchant for wearing Hawaiian shirts.
Murph doesn’t see himself as old, while Bob – who is prone to anger – is old before his time.
Murph has a tribe of kids, whom he doesn’t often see, but Bob hasn’t seen his only child, a son, for the best part of 20 years.
Bob has a series of mental and physical ailments. These days, his sharpness of mind is often compromised.
He is caught out “freezing”, in a catatonic stare, by both Murph and Duyen.
She “rescued” Murph from an exploitative taxi driver and drove him home on her motorbike.
As the play unfolds, we learn more about the respective family situations of all the players and the sadness inherent in Bob’s.
The title is drawn from a reference Bob makes about Murph being a flake.
Broken into five scenes, it is a superb production, with a series of killer one liners and biting humour.
Overall, I love the way Dan Lee has written the piece (drawn from a morsel of overheard conversation) …how the gradual reveals see the plot come together.
I have a slight reservation about a lengthy monologue from Bob at the end of one of the scenes in the second act, when he talks about his love of Vietnam. That could readily have been pared back and the work would have benefited accordingly.
Still, Lee and Chi Nguyen have deftly drawn out the cultural differences between Australians and Vietnamese.
I was extremely impressed by the performances.
Robert Menzies inhabits his character like a pair of well-worn boots that have seen better days. He transforms into a crusty, barely existing shell.
In contrast, Robert Menzies is the life of the party as a man child. He brings buoyancy and joie de vivre to his role.
Phoebe Phuoc Nguyen generates exuberance and a quick wit.
Set and costume designer Jacob Baptista has crafted an evocative setting, representing a cluttered, rundown kitchen in Hanoi.
I found Flake quite revelatory, positive affirmation of a playwright with a wonderful turn of phrase.
It is part of Red Stitch’s INK program, which propagates original Australian work, and is playing at Red Stich Theatre in St Kilda until 5th November, 2023.