Mary Rachel Brown Portrays Family Captured by Addiction
by Patricia L. Morin
At the intimate Griffin Theatre, Mary Rachel Brown explores the overlooked, slimy world of greyhound racing and gambling in poverty-stricken Dapto, in New South Wales, Australia. Designer Georgia Hopkins invites us into the Sinclairs’ rundown living room, furnished with stained recliner, dog cage, tread mill, and beer cans. Toby Knyvett’s lighting highlights their skeletal, messy home.
Cantankerous Errol Sinclair (powerful Danny Adcock) draws us into the dog-betting world as he listens to race results on his staticky transistor radio. Errol reminds me of my loving addictive, alcoholic Uncle Harry who would gamble on anything! On beer-induced hope, he would drive recklessly to the nearest neon-lit casino.
Director Glynn Nicholas presents Errol ordering his warm-hearted son Jimmy (versatile Jamie Oxenbould) to place a bet, while he is breathing through an oxygen tank—a cigarette dangling from his lips. The conversation between them dissolves into a litany of disasters that Errol’s years of gambling have inflicted on the family. He couldn’t even buy his wife a wig during her cancer treatments.
Errol also attacks Jimmy for working for their nemesis, the conniving racing boss, Arnold Denny (quick talking Noel Hodda). As Errol grabs another beer, we realize that these folks are sunk in misery inherited for generations—gambling, drinking, and betting on a dog for hope. No different today for some, like my Uncle Harry, who also bet on the horses, bought dozens of scratch-off lotto tickets, and could never pick up the right players in fantasy baseball.
Errol dies unexpectedly, and the play focuses on brothers Jimmy and Cess who battle over Dad’s funeral, revealing their long-standing opposition. Ever hopeful, like Errol, Cess (cunning Richard Sydenham) wants a full-on Catholic burial; but practical Jimmy wants Dad “cooked.”
Cess, stuck in the dog-racing world, is a talented dog trainer, and has a winner in his dog Boy Named Sue, with the animal beautifully mimed by the actors. We can hear the panting, the dog licking his face, and watch them petting the imaginary dog’s head.
Sound designer Daryl Wallis creates diverse sounds: the metal rabbit lure that tempts the hounds, the cheering crowd, the fast-talking race announcer. The sounds evoke the thrill of the race that drives the manic betting.
Although “The Dapto Chaser” uncovers the anger and resentment that poverty brings, Brown slips in humor and wit, throughout. Cess says to Jimmy: “My heart is running around on four legs. What animal would you be?” Eager to escape Dapto, Jimmy replies, “A turtle … I like the shell option.”
More conflict arises when unscrupulous Denny wants to buy Boy Named Sue for a mound of cash. Cess says, “Money is a living breathing thing. It’s got teeth—a greyhound dog with a pound of meat.”
We wonder if Cess’ love for his dog, and the thrill of the big race, will beat out the cash, as he sits in the recliner and flips open a can of beer.
“The Dapto Chaser” explores the raw experience of addictions that bring heartbreak. In this play, we feel a family’s struggle to care for a member held captive by gambling and drugs. A must see.
“The Dapto Chaser” by Mary Rachel Brown, directed by Glynn Nicholas—Streamed by Griffin Theatre, Sydney, Australian Theatre Live, through July 29, 2020. Info: GriffinTheatre.AU
Cast: Danny Adcock, Noel Hodda, Jamie Oxenbould, and Richard Sydenham.
Banner photo: Richard Sydenham (Cess)