The new Ross Mueller play at the Sydney Theatre Company has already nearly completely sold out, so rumour has it. And all I am going to say is BLOODY AWESOME! Congratulations Sydney Theatre Company, I hope this recipe for promotion of new Australian work continues… do you think within 3 years we’ll see Cate Blanchette in a new play by a new, new, new (completely unheard of) female Australian playwright? I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

But in the meantime, Zebra is good fun. It’s not brutal, weird, nasty, bleak, exhausting… it’s intelligent and has moments of great insight and is very easy to watch. It truly feels like we are watching some of our truly great Australian talent at work, I only wish two thirds of it wasn’t in an American accent. But, I think the cast is great – the design is perfect (my favourite this year), and Lee Lewis has done a really generous job mediating the American/Australian cultures and keeping the conversation, more than a one-on one male status squabble.

First Published on www.australianstage.com.au

It’s snowing outside. The morning light drifts into the windows onto the worn floorboards of an Irish pub in the middle of New York. Sporting memorabilia clutter the service area of the pub – worn, leather baseball gloves, a basketballer’s shirt pinned under glass. There is a jukebox, and green leather bar stools. A patchwork of framed photos tile the walls. A man bursts in, he’s been in a car accident he’s bleeding and he heads straight to the pub’s bathroom.

It’s 2009. Ten o’clock in the morning. The Global Financial crisis has brought America to its knees – everyone is feeling the pain. Barkeeper Robinson (Nadine Garner) has resigned herself to file for bankruptcy – there, on the bar is the paperwork to prove it. Larry (Colin Friels) – immaculately dressed in a three piece suit with jackets draped over his busted right arm is there to meet his future son in law for the first time. The love of his 26 year old daughter’s life. Enter Jimmy (Bryan Brown) a man in his 50s who is the love of Larry’s 26 year old daughter’s life. A lot has lead them to this place, a lot of effort, a lot of honesty, dishonesty, love, bravery, money – everything. And here they are – two men so similar yet so different – both with an agenda. One feels he can buy anything he wants and certainly doesn’t want his daughter marrying a man two years his junior – the other, having survived the crash (literally and financially) is looking for a new lease on life.

Ross Mueller’s career spans less than 10 years and already he has had plays produced on mainstages in Australia, the UK and in America. For those who saw the precursor to Zebra!, the Griffin/STC co-production of Concussion (produced in 2009) would be familiar with his sense of humour and his penchant for surprising character detail. But don’t be fooled, Mueller has a significant level of sophistication in what he is writing and there is a heart amongst the witty quips. And at the heart of Zebra! is a question of what is the value of love? The wonderful sleight of hand with this script is this – that you may think that the story is speaking of one thing, but within the last twenty minutes, we see that despite all the masculine breast-beating, despite the status struggles and the wheeling and dealing – love – though just as fickle and transient and hard earned – is still more powerful than money.

Lighting designer Damien Cooper has excelled himself – beautiful, beautiful work evoking morning light through light snow to the harsh blast of a pub in full swing and everywhere in between working symbiotically with set designer David McKay – we are completely transported to an Irish pub in New York.

Lee Lewis’ production appropriately fluctuates between the hyperloudtalk of bolshie moneyed America and the laid back casual larrikinism of Australia. Colin Friels’ Larry is full of boundless energy – large and bursting with opinions and hyerbole and beautifully contrasted by Bryan Brown’s slow Australian drawl. Nadine Garner is the perfect pivot point – fierce, funny and with a unique and understated sadness. Lewis’ direction defty negotiates the difficult spaces between cultures, the multiple quick-talking tangents and the politics of money and love –and we are left believing that despite everything that happens with money, business or love– there are no losers. And it is easy to see why this production has nearly sold out the entire season before it has barely begun.