Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Sex-linked violence batters emotions of Play House goers

Cleveland Press October 27, 1973

A man is handcuffed to the doorknob of his own apartment. Systematically an oafish policeman drives a fist into his stomach, gives him a kidney punch, smashes a knee into his groin.

Later, freed from his handcuffs, he is worked over by a second policeman who goes berserk, knocks the man down, stomps on him, jumps on him and beats his head against the floor.

These are not moments in a recent movie but in a major play from Australia which had its American premiere at the Play House Brooks Theater.

The play is bloody and its language is coarser than anything heard at the Play House. It is searing, moving and hardly for the squeamish.

The play is "The Removalists" by David Williamson, the leading playwright from the Down Under country, whose work has been highly regarded there and more lately in England.

Unlike movie violence, the play does not revel in mayhem but uses it as a dramatic device to lay bare the weaknesses of men.

"The Removalists" is hardly a pleasant play but it is a fierce and powerful drama. It is a work one admires rather than enjoys, respects rather than likes.

Curiously it is also laced with humor, and it is a humor that works much of the time. Is this a reflection of something that is purely Australian, the acceptance of violence as so completely an every day occurrence that it can be considered casually?

What is not purely Australian but is universal is the depiction of authority that has become corrupt, of bizarre acts of violence as some strange demonstration of virility.

The play is about two Australian policemen. Sgt. Simmonds (Richard McKenzie) is an old-timer who boasts that in 23 years he has never drawn his gun, never made an arrest.

The other is Constable Ross (James Sutorius), a rookie fresh out of police school.

Into their tiny office come two women. The older one, Mrs. LePage (Myrna Kaye), is egging on her younger sister (Peggy Roeder) into making a complaint against the younger one's husband. The idea is to get it on record that he is a wife-beater, and she plans to move out with all the furniture.

Simmonds sees the possibility of some sexual hanky panky and offers to help remove the furniture and help to set it up in a new apartment.

When Simmonds and Ross arrive the next evening they find that the husband, Kenny Carter (Douglas Jones), has not taken his usual night out to go drinking. At that moment he is arguing with a removalist, a furniture mover (James Bartz) who had been called in to take away the furniture.

Simmonds orders Ross to arrest Carter for obstructing justice, using obscene language, revisiting arrest and perhaps a couple of other things.

As Simmonds tries to ingratiate himself with the women he repeatedly beats the hand-cuffed Carter. The beating continues after the women leave and Simmonds' plans for the evening with them have fallen through.

The faults in the play are not in the coarse language and in the violence, both of which will raise objections, but in lack of credibility in the setting up of the main part of the plot and in a lack of believability as one event leads into another.

Guest actors McKenzie and Sutorius are tremendous in their roles. McKenzie's is the better part -- a boastful, mean, insecure, domineering man. The actor dramatizes every facet of such a man. The younger man is passive to a point. Then anger causes him to erupt. Sutorius makes the change nimbly.

The beatings both men give (and eventually take) are so realistically done as to be sickening as well as exciting. Though the play is new and daring it is experimental, not an abstraction. Larry Tarrant has directed it as naturalistic drama, one with excitement, melodrama and humor as well as deeper meaning.