The Hilarious Life Of A Recovering Alcoholic

Ruben Guthrie. The hilarious life of a recovering alcoholic

September 21 2009

by Brendan Cowell

“Ruben Guthrie” should be an incredibly successful play. Every member of Alcoholics Anonymous will go, every recovering alcoholic will go as well as their partners, mothers and fathers and children

It tells the very moral or slightly immoral story of Ruben Guthrie, a hot shot ad man who decides to come off the booze and we witness his dealing with a life of sobriety and his subsequent taking to the bottle again with disastrous consequences.

In the course of his precipitous journey, he loses his job, two girl friends and his best friend and there is generally not much left to his life by the end of the play.

It may be an Australian play but the presence of alcohol as a social and personal lubricant applies just as much to New Zealand society. But this isn’t some wowser play about the evils of drink, it’s really a play about relationships.

During Ruben’s attempts to give up he is constantly harangued by his nearest and dearest to have a drink; to help with his creativity, to chill out, to be more sociable, to be a better son, to be celebrate and commiserate.

He tries very hard to resist the temptations and watching the struggles of a man with a substance abuse condition may be instructive but not very edifying.

While the play may seem like a promotional campaign for Alcoholics Anonymous it manages to explore notions of dependence and addiction and how individuals can be damaged or sustained by their friends, lovers and parents.

The play also presents a world in which shallowness is given status and where amnesia is the best way of handling problems.

This bleak descent into chaos however is stitched together with great comedy and the one-liners are sharp and observant with Guthrie admitting, “I love blackouts, they are gifts from God” because they eliminate the memories of what we did when drunk. Or his fathers comment that “If you’re going to drink and drive you should do it in rush hour”

Virtually all the characters have flawed and addictive personalities and they each represent part of Ruben Guthrie and where love, work, power and status are affected by his problems with alcohol.

Oliver Driver as Ruben Guthrie acts as though he is on a whole cocktail of uppers and downers. On stage for three hours, he takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions, switching from passionate lover to foul mouthed brute, then wallowing in self-pity and self love, all the time trying to express his feelings.

He is a frenetic performer who engages with the audience using them as his AA group, his fan club and as voyeuristic spectators.

He manages the comic, the dramatic and pathos equally well and his body language expresses unvoiced emotions.

Peter Elliot as the father and Ellie Smith as his mother provide sympathetic multi levelled roles expressing love, self-criticism, and exasperation.

Dean O’Gorman as Rubens gay mate Damian who helps drag him back to the booze provides a well-observed character which could easily have turned into a caricature.

Rubens two girl friends Zoya and Virginia are two aspects of the woman he wants. Young Czech model Zoya, played sharply by Chelsie Preston Crayford and the recovering do-gooder Virginia played by Toni Potter are reflections of Ruben’s inner turmoil, the wanton and temperate parts of his personality.

This is black comedy at its best as well as being a play which explores the ruinous effects of booze culture on individuals and society

© National Business Review

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