A sad and pitiful story of aging, family relations and belonging. Written by Dan Lee, co-created by Chi Nguyen, and directed by Ella Caldwell, Flake tells a story of life and death, cultural differences, and the escapism from reality.
Set in the outskirts of Hanoi, a random night brought together Murph (Joe Petruzzi), Duyen (Phoebe Phuoc Nguyen) and Bob (Robert Menzies). Two old Australian men and a young Vietnamese woman unite in Bob’s run-down kitchen and unfolded the mess of family, friendship, and life.
The entire show was based in Bob’s clustered run-down kitchen. One single set supporting the entire 100-minute runtime of the show. The set design by Jacob Battista was astounding and has depth. The details of the set displayed the 10 years of life and the loneliness of Bob. The messy storage of his kitchenware, the used condiments and hand painting on the spice rack, his traditional herbal rice wine brewing on the countertop and my favourite; the single chair and added plastic stool accompanying his small foldout table.
This gives you an insight into Bob’s life, watering the garden out the front of his house, and the staircase going up to his bedroom. Paired with the beautiful lighting by Jason Ng Junjie, these details paint the daily lives of the characters flawlessly. The realistic and natural lighting gave a sense of day and night, and the transitions were artistic and smooth. Daniel Nixon also perfected the soundscape in show with the bustling sounds of Hanoi. It made you feel that you were actually there in Vietnam, hidden in a small home in some alleyway.
Joe Petruzzi’s depiction of Murph was astounding. An old Australian bloke in a Hawaiian shirt, coming to Vietnam to visit his old friend. A carefree traveller; humorous, charming but also laced with a hint of sleaziness. He was the perfect combination of that love-hate character that may remind you of a familiar uncle you may know.
Being a stark difference to Murph, Bob was a lonely old man who looked older than he was. Haunted by his past and present, and living a life of self-torture while hiding away in Hanoi. Unfortunately, due to illness, Menzies was still on-book for the show. In most parts, I didn’t even notice the script in hand, but it would be even more impactful to see him at his full potential.
The chemistry of Murph and Bob was on point and really did feel like old friends reunited. Their verbal sparring was the glue to the show, through humour and interrogation; they brought out many crucial topics and fun one-liners.
Nguyen’s addition to the show added a fresh breath to the ongoing loop between Murph and Bob. Duyen’s conflicted return to her roots and her clever one-liners were actually my favourite. I wish she had more of an input into the storyline and more of her own story, instead of just helping Bob face his own reality.
There was a lot of symbolism and connections made in the script. The core of Flake surrounds important messaging and matters that are important and dear to all. It had a lot it wanted to say, but the escalation was rather lengthy and difficult to absorb from start to finish. It seems to be overly ambitious and overstuffed with dialogue. It may be intentional to enhance Bob’s inner struggle and journey, but as an audience member, it felt less engaging at some parts. I loved the dramatic peaks and Bob’s monologue in the second act. And overall, there was a lot of pieces that resonated with me and left me reflecting when I left the theatre.
In Flake, I loved the dive into the cultural differences between Australians and Vietnamese. Born and raised in Australia myself, with a very conservative and traditional Chinese-Vietnamese family; the talk of parents growing old and the expectation to not send them to a nursing home was a common topic during my teen years. How common it is for the elderly to be sent to nursing homes for better care in Australia, compared to Vietnam where they will stay at home with family until their final days.
Flake is currently playing at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre until November 5.
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Photography by Jodie Hutchinson.