Ruben Guthrie follows the plight of an advertising executive attempting to curb his drinking, and his friends' and family's reactions. Actress Erin Dewar plays Ruben's friend and love interest. Throughout the rehearsal period, she's mulled over Australian drinking culture, which, it seems to her, is ingrained in many of our lifestyles. "Why isn't it a choice? Why don't we have the choice? It's just not something that comes into our field of thought or something, it's incredible ."
What might at first seem an extreme view, becomes more believable in following Ruben's story. His family drinks, his friends drink, it's part of almost any social occasion in his life. "Ruben is an advertising executive," explains Duwar. "He's battling with his identity: Who am I when I'm in the office? Who am I when I'm with this person and how am I defined by these people that are around me? Ultimately, what's important to him? He meets my character at an AA meeting so he's obviously dealing with some pretty heavy duty stuff. It's kind of about his family's reaction to how he might change or how he does change really, when he's faced with old habits and changing those old habits."
At a time when he needs his family and friends' support, it seems there is none. "Even Ruben's father in this play is just as bad, if not worse, to be honest, in terms of drinking," says Dewar. "He just cannot understand, he says, 'You can't not drink.' He just won't accept it and even at his worst he's offering him a drink going, 'Just drink it, just shut up and drink it, it's fine.' Of course he's an alcoholic - he's not even realising. It's not an option for him to not drink."
Many of the characters in the play are isolated from one another and have Ruben in common. "It's quite amazing to see how all these people intersect with him and so many of them have put so much pressure on him for all different reasons," says Dewar. "It's never thinking about Ruben, it's never about looking out for him. It's always coming from somewhere in them and of course we're all guided by wherever we're coming from, but I guess it's really sad to see how much that happens in this play and I think much to his demise.
I think the thing for me is you've got to be available for people and you've got to be able to hear them when they need you and see when they're in need rather than being wrapped up in your own stuff all the time. I find that to be the true tragedy of his character is that there's just no one for him to turn to really, that he can actually really rely on and if you don't have the strength in yourself to do it, to look out for yourself and understand what's good for you and what you need, wow it's really hard."
When people are lost, or perhaps just unsure of who they are, they can surround themselves with people who are more than happy to shape them. "I think people that are unsure of who they are, I mean this is a general statement, they tend to seek out people who are really strong in themselves and who really know who they are. I think if you're unclear about that, it's really easy to seek out other people and kind of draw from them and draw their energy and you kind of get manipulated by that I guess," ponders Dewar.
For all the challenges which Ruben Guthrie presents, Dewar is extremely enthusiastic about the coming season. "There's some really dark undertones in this play and really tragic [ones too] but the characters are really lively, they're really fun to sit with and play with and watch, and they're really well defined and really well drawn by Brendan. I think it's going to be really exciting to watch. They're funny because they're so real and so raw. They're just out there. I think people should definitely see it, because it's going to be a riot."
Ruben Guthrie is playing at the Red Stitch Actors Theatre in St Kilda from February 2 until March 5. It's also part of the St Kilda Festival. For more information head to redstitch.net.