One Thumb Out
nytheatre.com review by Amy E. Witting
August 25, 2010
While eagerly anticipating the start of One Thumb Out, written by Tom MacLachlan, I read the note in the program. One Thumb Out was MacLachlan's immediate response to the horrific events of September 11, 2001. Immediately I wondered how a theatre company based in Australia was going to pull off yet another play about September 11; but I left wondering why it took so long for this piece to show up in New York City. The words are raw, beautiful, and peppered with just the right amount of humor, rage, and social commentary. One Thumb Out is as much a piece about a country on the brink of war as it is about the human condition.
At the core of MacLachlan's deliciously written play is the exploration of love and forgiveness. I allowed myself to get lost in the story set in a fictionalized Australia rooting for each character on their individual journey to find a balance between duty, family, and self. After leaving the theatre I thought of my own displacement during 9/11 as an American living abroad: the desire to return home, the urgency from loved ones to stay away. One Thumb Out explores each of these emotions in a very real way without imposing a political stance on war, and evenly gives us different viewpoints that are as relatable today as they were nine years ago.
The Australian ensemble cast of seven are committed and strong from the moment they walk on stage. Headed by Paul Layton as Olly, the conscientious objector by default, and Gemma Yates-Round as Gemma, the play opens with the parallels of two strangers fighting against a war for very different reasons. What is clear from the moment we are introduced to this unlikely pair is that they need each other. Olly's first attempt at hitchhiking lands him in Gemma's truck and from that moment on the play breathes a life that never disappoints.
Yates-Round and Layton have a wonderful subtle chemistry. "You'd make a bloody good socialist, Oliver," Gemma excitedly tells the young runaway. "I don't know if I can grow a beard." Olly is a naive 22-year-old struggling with the death of his father, and trying to break free from the control of his brother, Joe. He doesn't understand why he has been conscripted to fight in a war oceans away, and decides to leave his mates behind. Perhaps Olly's naivete is what convinces Gemma, a political activist, to take him under her wing. She passionately asks him to fight for freedom, and he unassumingly obliges.
Olly's brother Joe, played by the hauntingly charming Adam Demos, has been conscripted and is disappointed in his brother Olly for escaping the barracks days earlier. We are introduced to Joe through his newly pregnant girlfriend, Brie. Brie has bought matching family shirts "on sale," and immediately we discover the tension in this relationship. Joe's silence is executed with precision by Demos, and his pain radiates through every movement. He blames Olly for the death of their father, and has personally taken on the responsibility to make sure Olly makes the right choices in life. Joe leaves Brie behind to track down Olly. The cast is rounded out by the friends supporting these two brothers, and it's the death of Olly's best friend Chick, that brings him back home.
The scenes are woven together with ease by the direction of Zoe Carides. There is a brilliant fluidity with the scene changes that never allows the audience to lose their focus on the world that has been created. In the moment when Joe confronts his brother I found myself rooting for both sides; it was hard to watch the battle ensue. Through the hour-long production I developed a deep caring for each character and was satisfied when a happy ending wasn't granted for all. In the end of the piece there are signs of hope, feelings of despair, and wonderment for the world we live in. I think One Thumb Out is an important piece to watch and listen to, and Tom MacLachlan is a name worth remembering.