Final Round [FringeTIX]
7:00pm, Thu 18 Feb 2010
As the lights come up, we’re looking inside a hospital; old Dave lays on one bed, reading the paper. Nurse Sarah wheels young wheelchair-bound Sol in – he’s received some serious knee damage as a result of an accident in his truck, and howls in pain as he tries to make it into his bed. In Sarah’s absence, the two men bond – before Dave’s needling enrages Sol to physical rage, and the inevitable crumpling on the floor.
This opening scene sets the pattern for Final Round; the three players rarely work as a trio, but the two pairings involving Dave provide the meat of the play. His constant antagonism of the flammable Sol; his unreciprocated flirtation with Sarah. It’s odd that, of all the characters, Dave is the character most guarded in his background: Sol is an open book, Sarah freely provides her background as texture and contrast, but Dave is pointedly evasive when it comes to his past.
As the play progresses, more and more of Dave’s life – and affliction – is revealed; sometimes through the interplay of the principals, and sometimes using the invisible Algie as a plot-advancing foil. But that’s where some of the problems with Final Round lie: Algie is undeveloped and underused and, ultimately, pointless; some of the dialogue also fails to ring true. The bit of babble about sex at the end of the first scene felt horribly out of place, and there seems to be an inclination for the two men to attribute their failings to their tumultuous childhoods – a blunt and contrived cop-out.
Cassandra Kane was brilliant as the Nurse – she’s got the gift of sublime comedic timing (there’s a perfectly weighted pause when she judges Sol’s pain “…a six”) and some of the best lines: “you’re just… coping”. The casting of Michael Baldwin as Dave was nigh-on perfect; he lends an acerbic dignity to the role. Nathan Porteus’ Sol, on the other hand, doesn’t work quite so well; sure, he’s got the teetering-on-the-brink-of-rage thing down pat, but I’m not convinced of the rest of his range.
The premise of the hospital as a microcosm of society was interesting, if under-explored, and the inevitable Happy Ending wasn’t as cringeworthy as it could have been. The drama was broken up with dollops of humour (Dave’s bottomless bedside locker providing much of the humour), helping make Final Round a competent bit of Fringe Theatre.