Male vulnerability relentlessly on display in this unique solo-mask performance
A surrealist display of the harsh reality of gender politics, Absolutely Reliable! is transfixing and provocative.
By Lee Delong and Ralf Wetzel
Directed by Lee Delong
With Ralf Wetzel
Masks created by Stephen John Cooper
Absolutely Reliable! Is a solo mask performance that confronts toxic masculinity head-on in a delightfully comic monologue that follows George through an examination of his male vulnerability and suppressed aggression. In a timely response to the #metoo movement, George negotiates the tangled web of his increasingly darker side. A surrealistic, rollicking, slightly creepy look into his world sheds tender light on just how bad alpha-male culture can get.
George is a white, middle aged, middle class, middle manager desperate for female attention. Just as he appears to be getting closer to the object of his desire, he swirls in a maelstrom of denial, anger, and insecurity. George oscillates between love and loss, death and birth, and never ever finds his deeper self.
Director and co-writer Lee Delong has transformed George’s anxieties and traumas into a raw investigation of contemporary gender norms using dark comedy. Co-author Ralf Wetzel wears a mask that fits him like a glove. It has a transfixing power and sometimes one forgets that it’s a mask, so much so that Wetzel plays two distinct characters - male and female - with only one mask. Negotiating a labyrinth of increasingly comic situations, George is peeled away like an onion to reveal a surprising truth.
THE SADDEST MAN IN THE WORLD
by Olga Vujovic
"Absolutely Reliable!" with Ralf Wetzel, International Clown Festival Zagreb, 12.03.2020
…Ralf Wetzel, performed "Absolutely Reliable", directed by Lee Delong at the Triko Circus Studio….His Zagreb performance, described as a "solo mask show", is one of the most exciting performances I've seen in our theaters lately!
He is George, a middle-aged man, middle-class man, and a mediocre manager by profession, who recounts his life to us in search of love, friendship and affirmation.
... a poignant story, masked to unrecognizability and unusual voice modulations, Wetzel evokes deep and sincere sympathy. Thanks to his remarkable interpretation, we do not see Wetzel but George.
George is the prototype of a modern man….an example of a man who may have conquered the universe but lost the battle against himself.
And we cannot laugh at such a character, even when he is funny.
THE WEIRDEST WAY TO TEACH BUSINESS
Financial Times, 14.08.2019
by Jonathan Moules
[The] masked character, George, is a version of a prototypical western man based on ... the traumas that alpha males face in a business world now shaped by the need to diversify workforces and for managers to be more empathetic.
The character of George, a white, middle-aged, middle-class, middle manager [is] desperate for both promotion in his company and for a relationship in his personal life.
As he gets closer to achieving these goals, George’s inner demons of insecurity, anger and denial get the better of him, to tragic effect.
by Sam Chittenden
Venue: C Cubed
Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
From the offset Wetzel’s character Goerge is a strange mix of funny and unsettling.
George is a storyteller, recounting the surprising (to him) story of his romantic liaison with the sensual Josephine. Wetzel sveltely shifts in and out of Josephine’s physique….
As the tale develops it (and George) becomes more sinister; more surreal….Wetzel’s emotional engagement with his audience is palpable, and we can’t help but empathise. Yet at the same time there is something ominous about his impulsive neediness; something hilariously discomforting about his sensuality on stage, the way he mounts and strokes a chair….
Of course, things don’t end well, and there is a dark and nicely elliptical ending in sight.
One of very few pieces of mask work in this year’s fringe, Absolutely Reliable! is a deliciously dark tale, engagingly delivered.
Mumble Theatre, 14.08.2019
Stagecraft: 4 stars
Performance: 5 stars
S.O.D: 4 stars
Damian Beeson Bullen
Overall, the message of the play is driven by the context in which you watch it. If you put the show into a different perspective, you see something different. We discovered that it’s like a prism. It will break light accordingly to how it is projected onto it. Masculinity is one angle, femininity might be another.
The beautiful & deformed gargoyle that is George comes across sometimes creepy – like serial killer weird – & sometimes catching our sympathies with sweetness.
… with Wetzel fluctuating between polarized emotions in an astonishing instant – like a magician’s flip of a card – in the same effortless fashion that his 18th century compatriot, Konrad Ekhof, handled both tragedy & comedy famously well.
He is a superb performer & it is a most addictive & fascinating experience watching him surfing on his own intensity.