The Call by Patricia Cornelius tells the story of Gary (Simon Mallory) who lives is a small country town where there’s nothing much going on. Between him and his mates Chunk (Isaac Drandich) and Aldo (Leroy Parsons) life is full of misadventures like stealing a car, getting drunk or getting high. Gary works at the local abattoir killing chickens, but his sympathy for his victims seems out of place with the rest of his co-workers. Gary is looking for something, but he doesn’t know what and when he meets Denise (Peta Brady) he thinks he’s found what he’s looking for: love.
The Call brilliantly explores what life is like in small country towns across rural Australia, the sense of desolation and hopelessness that mingles with the common-sense humanity that is needed to make it all bearable. The play highlights why people turn to drugs and gives an insight into the broader culture and society that fosters people like Gary. The Call is also about that “call” that some of us have to be apart of something greater than ourselves, to feel as though our lives have purpose and meaning. For Gary this comes when he discovers Islam and his life takes a different journey that is not that dissimilar to the life of David Hicks (which no doubt is intentional).
All of the cast give wonderful performances. They are a tight ensemble who understands their characters and their world intimately and thoroughly. No one actor can be singled out for praise, because they are all so good. Patricia Cornelius’s writing is exquisite, her characters are not just alive they breathe, particularly Denise (Peta Brady) who is filled with all the heartache of someone who has had their dreams taken from them. Andrea James’s direction is tight and uses the Fairfax studio innovatively and originally, proving that the Fairfax can be an exciting space in which to experience theatre. Irine Vela’s music is powerful and sits within the world of the play beautifully but at times it is too loud and detracts from the powerful moments on stage.
If there is but one criticism with The Call it is that, the character of Gary does not have a moment of realisation, a clear beginning to his path to finding religion and meeting his “call”. As an audience we feel the impact that his life has had upon him, but he is such an empty vessel, so seemingly happy with his life with Denise, that we wonder why or how he makes his discovery of Islam. The play does not clearly address this, showing as it were, the before and after-effects, but not the inciting incident. This absence makes it difficult to believe the latter half of the story.
The Call challenges its viewers, not only because it reflects the society that exists in Australia, but it forces us as viewers to examine why we are this way. Some viewers may be comfortable with this, some may laugh at the recognition of themselves, but many will feel a sense of dread. This is because The Call tackles an issue which is rarely presented in any form of creative media in Australia, the notion of Australian secularism and whether or not this secularism is a good thing. Australians, it could be argued, are scared of any deep belief. Religion and faith fosters such a belief, and this no doubt is the reason why Islam was chosen as the religion that Gary finds, particularly given the media’s representation of Islam as a religion largely made up of fundamentalists and suicide bombers. Religion and beliefs such as these scare us as a society and we simply do not want to deal with this. This is the real strength of The Call and is what it makes it a powerful piece of Australian theatre.
FULL TILT at the Arts Centre presents Melbourne Workers Theatre’s production of
by Patricia Cornelius
Venue: Fairfax Studio
Dates: 14 Nov 2007 - 24 Nov 2007
Times: 14 - 17 & 20 - 24 November 7.30pm; matinees 17 & 24 November 3pm; Post performance free forum 17 November 4.30pm
Tickets: $20 - $28