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John Bailey reviews Rhonda is in Therapy for The Age

See the review in its original context here.

THE death of a child is a low-rent, low-risk device with which to ratchet up an audience’s sympathy, so it’s something of a shock to see such an incident mentioned almost in passing within this confident play’s first minutes.

Chemistry lecturer Rhonda is in session with the latest in a string of counsellors and the passing of her five-year-old, Jamie, doesn’t rate for much of an airing.

It’s unclear what school of thought this therapist adheres to, but a psychoanalyst might point to Jamie as the structuring absence of this drama – a total enigma almost never referred to, yet whose short life dictates almost every thought and action. Rhonda’s relationships with her gentle, bearish husband Lief, her second child Arabella, and the guileless young student with whom she has a loveless infidelity are all infected by the grief she’s unable to articulate.

Writer Bridgette Burton wisely avoids the pat resolutions of the therapy drama, however. Rhonda doesn’t just talk out her sadness, and the play’s various endings answer questions without providing some pop-psychology notion of ”closure”. There are a number of sharp twists that do distract somewhat from the more graduated development of the narrative, but they’re ultimately dispensed with sensitively.

Director Wayne Pearn keeps the focus tightly on character and story here, with few stylistic flourishes. Actor Louise Crawford’s CV is more screen than theatre-based but she does a handsome job mining Rhonda’s rich inner life, while the always riveting Ben Grant delivers another finely calibrated performance. A quiet but clear-minded affair.

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