‘What does this all mean?’ I’d love to tell you, but I have no flaming idea.
Last Friday night, while everyone else was gearing up to hit the town, some friends and I found ourselves at Adelaide University’s Little Theatre, ready for a wholesome, thought-provoking theatrical experience to round off our week. The play on offer was Stephen Sewell’s Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America. Did it fulfil our hopes for the evening? Let me just say this: it was a lot to take in.
We followed the character of Talbot, played by Nick Fagan, an Australian man working at an Ivy League college in America as a Liberal Arts lecturer. The audience watches him go off his rocker as he falls victim to societal questions about terror, ignorance, and the line between patriotism and nationalism. First produced in 2003, this ‘drama in 30 scenes’ deals with the carnage left behind after September 11. Sewell is renowned for his award-winning work, with this baby being one of his big ones.
The director, Erik Strauts, expresses a strong connection with the idea that society should, but never does, learn from history – this production was an active choice to explore how this concept applies to our modern world. The discussion that this play raises remains timely; it’s been kept in the spotlight by Trump’s rise to power in recent years.
As far as the set was concerned, designer Brittany Daw managed to reflect the vibe of an exceptionally uncomfortable merge between Nazi Germany and contemporary America: the colour scheme was red and black, spotted with white and blue finishes. During scene changes, the audience’s eyes would be directed up to a projection of an imposing American flag. As the play progresses the flag takes on another dimension, subtly fading to make way for an imposing icon – so keep your eyes peeled!
From where I was sitting, there were some stand out performances. The first one that comes to mind is that of James Black, who plays Max, the Aussie best friend of our poor mad-man, Talbot. Until a sneaky twist at the end, Max served as much needed comic relief – he was the familiar Australian perspective, uttering the word ‘mate’ here and there to dilute the sea of everything American.
And then there were Stan and Jack. Jack and Stan. Jarrod Chave and Tim Edhouse were highly convincing in their roles as staff members at the college and had an appealing chemistry on stage. Chave and Edhouse’s accents were also consistent and well-established.
There was one character which, for the life of me, I could not entirely wrap my head around. If any of you figure him out, please, get in touch. Halfway through the second act we are introduced to ‘The Man’ – yes, all I can think of is the Killers song. ‘The Man’ proves to be exceedingly problematic for our protagonist. He appears to resemble someone out of the Matrix: the big black coat, the white gloves, the wrap around sunnies. A 2000s icon if there ever was one.
I’m going to say that this University of Adelaide Theatre Guild production is not for the light hearted or impatient. It’s saturated with swearing and soaked with political and philosophical lingo.
When you ask, ‘what am I in for?’ Well, it’s dense. It’s distressing. And it’s heavy in concept. It will challenge each and every one of its viewers. Without a doubt, it appeals to an elitist audience and, unfortunately, excludes the masses – in order to get the most out of this show, you need a thorough understanding of political and societal structures, as well as familiarity with influential writers and philosophers. Otherwise, you might find yourself in struggle-town. Perhaps this is a statement from the playwright about our ignorance. Or perhaps not.
In hindsight, I find it rather peculiar that I was sitting in the theatre at Adelaide Uni, watching a play, written by an Australian playwright, which picks apart the intricacies of the American dilemma. And within this play, Australia is spoken of as a ‘pretend country’ which really drills home how America seem to define us.
The movements of America – our so called ‘big brother’ – have become part of our everyday news headlines, absorbing our constant attention, and now occupying our theatrical spaces. Do we keep feeding the American ego by granting it all this attention? Or at the other end of the spectrum, are we becoming desensitised to the U. S. of A. because we are just hearing too damn much about it? Dare I say, we should now be looking a little closer to home, starting by centring our conversations around our own country. Because I would like to think that out nation is just as great, our issues just as urgent, and what we have to offer is equally as appealing.
Some things to think about between the many questions that will be left on your conscience after this doozy of a production.
Showing times: 17-19 May 2018, 7:30pm.
Venue: Little Theatre, University of Adelaide.
Tickets: $28 Full/ $23 Concession
Follow the link to secure your tickets.
Words by Michelle Wakim