In “Neville’s Island,” four British blokes find themselves shipwrecked on an island “the size of boxer shorts,” as one character snipes.
In this play from Hat Trick Theatre Productions, Inc., these middle-aged, middle-management chaps are far from being adventurers. They are merely office drudges yanked away from their cubicles by an outward bound-type team-building exercise.
What follows is a cross between “Lord of the Flies” and the slapstick “The Benny Hill Show.”
The so-called leader of the team is Neville (Stephen Fisher), a decent sort who doesn’t lead as much as accommodate his moody companions. Angus (Jonathan Cho) is the mild-mannered, super-efficient one who has filled his backpack with every outdoors necessity available in the sporting goods store. Roy (Paul McColgan) is the spiritual dreamer who uses his accidental encounter with the wilderness to indulge his passion for bird-watching.
Jack Holloway plays Gordon, a loud-mouthed antagonist. “How are things going in the steering department?” he sneers at poor Neville, who has guided their boat in the wrong direction.
As the play progresses, Gordon is the catalyst who brutally provokes his companions by dredging up their deepest pains.
If all this sounds like office politics on steroids, you’re right. It’s raw psychological warfare – something familiar to white-collar types on both sides of the Atlantic.
However, this play, with its moments that teeter between farce and heartbreak, was penned for an English audience. It relies on nuances of the British class system that don’t translate into the American experience.
Gordon’s anger apparently is fed by his humble origins. Even Angus, a fellow rapidly rising in the management ranks, feels trapped. “You can’t come from the middle class,” he says. “You just are in it.”
Neville’s Island was penned by Tim Firth, a noted dramatist and colleague of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn. (He’s also the writer of the original screen play, Kinky Boots, which is the basis for the current Broadway hit.)
This production is both ambitious and uneven.
Ambitious, because it took guts for Hat Trick Theatre to take this on. After all, even though “Neville’s Island” has slapstick moments, Firth’s script is difficult to pull off for American performers. British nuances, humor and slang are different than ours on this side of the pond.
Uneven, because the performances are uneven. Paul McColgan had a difficult task to make Roy, the religious bird watcher and heartbroken lover, come alive without looking silly. He gives a transcendent performance that will move you to tears.
Both Cho and Fisher as Neville do fine jobs. One only wishes that Holloway would make Gordon more three-dimensional, conveying the hurt that Gordon is feeling as much as his character’s anger. Director Gi Young Sung could have moderated his intensity and encouraged the development of his character.
Still, kudos are owed to this professional theater company founded in Tampa in 2004. They have performed in Ybor’s Silver Meteor Gallery and in Hudson. These folks are ambitious and hard-working. Tampa’s cultural scene needs more like them.
Neville’s Island is recommended for mature audiences only. It contains adult language, violence and brief comic nudity.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sunday, through June 23; “Pay-What-You-Can” performance at 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Straz Center, Shimberg Playhouse, 1010 MacInnes Place, Tampa
Tickets: $23; (813) 229-7827 and www.strazcenter.org