Chaotic thriller ‘Groundswell’ is riveting

by David Dixon

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Owiso Odera, Antony Hagopian and Ned Schmidtke give outstanding performances in this clever production about schemers looking for a way to strike it rich. Courtesy of theoldglobe.org

Owiso Odera, Antony Hagopian and Ned Schmidtke give outstanding performances in this clever production about schemers looking for a way to strike it rich. Courtesy of theoldglobe.org

There is something darkly magical about “Groundswell,” an absorbing drama now playing at The Old Globe Theatre. It starts out as a sentimental semi-satire about a shady economic business, and eventually becomes a shockingly chaotic thriller.

Thami (Owiso Odera) is a poor caretaker of a South African beachfront guesthouse. His mysterious friend, Johan (Antony Hagopian) thinks he has found a surefire way to make both of them rich. The plan is to buy a deserted diamond mine, which is said to contain diamonds worth tons of cash. For this to happen, they need to find an investor. Johan tells Thami a new visitor to the area, Smith (Ned Schmidtke), is a highly successful businessman. Everything about Johan’s idea is completely illogical, yet he still believes if Smith has dinner with them, he might agree to make their dream a reality.

Ian Bruce’s smart and insightful script could have easily taken several different paths in how the events unfold. During the opening scenes, audience members might be fooled into thinking the play is a comedy-drama. At the very beginning of dinner, Johan talks to Smith like a sketchy traveling salesman. These moments are funny because Johan can be such a wannabe entrepreneur in the way he tries to persuade the retired guest.

After Smith finds out the truth about Thami and Johan, “Groundswell” shifts gears. Believing fate is the reason Smith came to their hotel, Johan becomes something of an intellectual terrorist and hopes his close friend will follow whatever actions he dictates. From that point on, the events in the story become more wildly unpredictable.

All three actors give phenomenal performances. Odera conveys plenty of sympathy as Thami, making him the moral center. Schmidtke’s character, Smith, might be the riskiest one to portray. Self-made wealthy men are not usually the most relatable people, in real life or in fiction, but what the performer is able to accomplish is nothing short of amazing. Schmidtke finds the humanity in a person who many cynical people would label as “the Man.”

Hagopian is compelling and scary in his portrayal of Johan. The performance brings to mind Christian Bale in the way he manages to create so much effective intensity from the smallest of gestures.

Russell H. Champa’s lighting design, along with Lindsay Jones’ sound design produces a surreal tone. In several moments, the lighting dims while psychedelic music can be easily heard in the background. Those sequences happen when the action is at its most bleak.

“Groundswell” cannot be described as feel-good theater, but the result is well worth watching. It is the kind of production that stays unpredictable about where the situations will go next. For viewers who crave riveting tension mixed with originality, this should be a satisfying evening.

Tickets and information about “Groundswell” can be found on theoldglobe.org.

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