The best way to describe Ensemble’s Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica is to imagine a Netflix-to-stage adaptation. Directed by Mark Kilmurry, Rhinestone isn’t a show that achieves anything particularly impressive, but it will surely scratch your romantic comedy itch should you have one.
Written in 2010 by Australian playwright David Williamson AO, Rhinestone Rex is a classic example of a romantic comedy in which two strongly incompatible leads fall in love. It’s a cliched trope, but that’s expected given cliches and tropes are endemic to romantic comedies and indeed usually expected in the genre.
Glenn Hazeldine plays Gary, a brash tradie / ‘interior design consultant’ / DJ (depending on who you ask) with an obsession for country music. Gary is called in to renovate Monica’s (Georgie Parker) kitchen. After fighting with Monica on her instructions and prices, Gary gets to work in the kitchen, toiling away while loudly playing his beloved country music in the background.
This first scene leads us to discover how the incompatible leads trope plays out, which is through Gary and Monica’s disparate tastes in music. Monica detests Gary’s love of country – so much so that she bans him from using the speaker when she is at home. Not only does Monica ban Gary from listening to country, but she tries time and time again to divert Gary’s tastes to classic, particularly Mahler. The conflict arises because Gary is equally unwavering in his love of country, rejecting Monica’s attempts to convert him to classical music, and pushing back with his own attempts to proselytize Monica into a country lover.
Whilst Gary has some hugely funny lines, he is an unlikeable character. He exhibits sprinkles of depth and complexity, but these are readily overwhelmed by his caricature-like obsession with himself and his deeply misogynistic nature. And although Monica is more likeable, her character is easily forgettable. The lack of connection with either character is one of the biggest letdowns of the show given the importance of the two leads in any romantic comedy.
The pair’s motivation for predictably falling in love also proves thin and unconvincing. Gary’s character experiences little growth during the show, so there’s little satisfaction or believability in seeing them overcome their differences and fall for each other. Again, the execution of that falling-in-love moment or trigger is crucial to the success of any romantic comedy but it feels like little more than an afterthought aimed at tying the story up in Rhinestone Rex.
Despite the show’s faults, the humorous back-and-forth between Monica and Gary keeps the show heartily entertaining throughout. Combined with Hazeldine and Parker’s excellent performances and the refinement of Ensemble’s production, the show ultimately triumphs in giving audiences a worthy romantic comedy that manages to stay true to the style on stage.
Whilst Rhinestone doesn’t set out to do anything truly remarkable or push any boundaries, it’s certainly easy to recommend to those that enjoy romantic comedies. You largely know what you’re getting beforehand so check it out before the show ends on the 29th of April.