Spanish satisfaction

Smiley

BackDock Arts

November 19 -29

In emoji terms a ‘smiley’ face with a broad, closed smile is used to express genuine happiness and warm, positive feelings. In its namesake 2013 play written by Guillem Clua, it how chiselled Latin bartender Alex (Sergio Ulloa Torres) communicates his feelings to his lover the morning after, in hope that he feels the same … before a week of being ghosted, which is what leads to the unintended, upset phone messages to older architect Bruno (Matt Young), that set the Spanish gay romantic comedy in motion.

The two-hander, “Smiley” which is sponsored by Brisbane Pride in its Australian premiere, is a love story, pure and simple, but one that is authentically complicated by contradictions and insecurities. And Liam Burke’s adaptation and direction celebrates this, within the lens of connection courtesy of technology, without sacrificing momentum or comic opportunities or disrespecting the original text. Its central premise is based the red thread of destiny, a Japanese legend that states that when two people are destined to be together an invisible red thread connects them from the day they were born, no matter how different they may seem. Protagonists Alex and Bruno are perfect for illustration of the metaphor; they are very different, with little in common beyond both being gay men living in Barcelona. Yet, from the moment of that mistakenly dialed phone call, they are linked, despite an initial awkward (and very funny) first meeting and date. And the ensuing narrative serves as a wonderful tribute to some great romantic comedies.

Functional design facilitates a range of Barcelona locations, allowing the talented Torres and Young to give physically-demanding performances that maintain intensity around some well-timed comic moments. Torres is a magnetic performer whose sassy, energetic disposition works in balanced complement with Young’s relatable, seemingly more settled Bruno. A highlight of the versatility of Young’s skill comes in roles as Bruno, but instead as he transitions seamlessly through a string of Alex’s potential Grindr matches, each with their own unique and very distinct personalities.

The emotional truth at its core makes “Smiley” heart-warming and easy to watch. Rather than relying on clichéd comedy courtesy of Alex’s accented pronunciations, his funniest moments come from the ordinariness of his mini-rants about diet coke et al. But along with its humour comes a hopeful honesty that gives a reassurance as to the future, for romantics and pragmatists alike, ensuring that everyone leaves the intimate BackDock Arts theatre space with their own in-real-life smilies. Indeed, this is a play of universal themes of a time in which technologies have changed our lives. While it focuses on the experiences of the gay community, the longing of repeated voice message plays and desperate desire to discover digital clues and interpret the meaning of every emoji of even group message communications, make it a relevant as well as engaging work beyond this and, therefore, one that makes for a very satisfying visit.