Love-Lies-Bleeding ultimately explores euthanasia; not an overly original subject but Don DeLillo humanises the play by ridding the stage of lawyers, doctors and politicians. Instead, we are left with three family members trying to grapple with a decision; what to do with Alex? Lia (Paula Arundell) is Alex’s (Max Cullen) current, much younger wife who is determined for her husband to live out his natural course. Toinette, (Robyn Nevin), Alex’s blunt and eccentric second wife, and Sean, (Benjamin Winspear), Alex’s begrudging son, however, both want to put an end to Alex’s vegetative state. Amid the debating and reminiscing is Alex ‘in extremis’, (a deathly still Shaun Goss), bound to a wheelchair and fed by a tube and strategically present throughout the play like a silent witness to the trial.
The cast bravely don American accents which though at times waver, do not distract us from what are overall very good performances. Nevin and Cullen in particular shine as the dysfunctional couple. Their flashback scenes are so believable that we can almost imagine them bickering as husband and wife. Cullen also convincingly portrays Alex’s decline from his burly arrogance complete with confident swagger, to post-stroke when half of Alex’s body becomes paralysed. Cullen executes this by physically deadening half of his body and affecting his speech accordingly. The transition makes formidable impact to see such a man of stature be reduced to sheer helplessness.
Love-Lies-Bleeding derives its name from a desert plant originating from the American tropics. In the early part of the play, Lia recalls her first sighting of an entire field of the vibrant red tassel flowers during a trip to India with Alex. She describes the infinite mass of crimson, a spectacular sight to behold but she reiterates the sharpness of the plant which slices like a knife. Such figurative language can only be expected from a writer who is relatively more well-known for his novels notably White Noise which won the American National Book Award. In fact, Love-Lies-Bleeding is a very visual play with evocative descriptions of landscape and nature which become metaphors for the play; very fitting considering that Alex is an artist striving for bigger things beyond a canvas. In a drunken exchange between him and Toinette, he declares: “m’illumino d’immenso” (I flood myself with light of the immense), a reference to the sole line of an Italian poem encapsulating the power of the morning. Alex too yearns to be illuminated, indeed almost a prophecy of him eventually becoming closer to the light.
As designer, Fiona Crombie creates a vast and barren landscape with the expansive stage adding rocky surfaces to allude to Alex’s isolated desert home. The sparse set also becomes the void that the characters find themselves in; a waiting room accentuated by the sterile white lighting.
Directed by Lee Lewis, Love-Lies-Bleeding
is a realistic and sensitive portrayal of a family at a crossroads. Considering
its potentially heavy subject matter, this ensemble play is also surprisingly
amusing. DeLillo also deliberately does not preach in his writing. If anything,
he makes a self-conscious reference in one of his lines when Lia turns to
Toinette to say that she’ll have to work on her argument in trying to convince
her to terminate Alex’s life. This is not a play about casting moral judgement.
Instead, DeLillo seems to be more interested in the dynamics between
relationships and how we choose to remember people.