Heterodex | Factory Space Theatre Company

Heterodex | Factory Space Theatre CompanyThe premise of this play is an exceptionally promising one: invent a drug called Heterodex and use it as a farcical device to parody our propensity, or desire, for homogenising people; in this case, gay people. Post-premise, sad to say, this 'absurdist Jewish comedy about love and homosexual tendencies' falls apart at the seams; nay it hath none. While, I'm sure, its creators see it as provocative & pithy, I found it pointless and embarrasingly unfunny. If absurdist is a way to weasel out of a cohesive narrative, then it's absurdist. If Jewish means having rerun Jewish characters, without showing any feeling for Jewishness or Jewish humour, then it's Jewish. If comedy refers to a run of errors of judgment in forming characters (these wouldn't cut it as cartoons), then it's a comedy.

It might be desperately seeking to unconventionally delve into the ethical dilemmas facing two medical professionals who've fathered a child together, but where's the believability? Murray Bornstein (played by Leo Domigan; after interval, to an amphetamined degree) is a mild-mannered GP, (s)mothered by Babs. How original, having a short woman with a wig and unconvincing middle-European accent who suckled her offspring up to the age of 13! Is this why he's in the closet? His mother turned him gay? Is this intended to be cute? Quirky? A pointed barb? Apparently, he always wanted to be a performer, but nowhere that I recall is this clearly revealed (I read it in the program, apres event; so that's why he was wearing that ridiculous clobber in the second half).

But the play doesn't start with Murray, but Murray's son, spoilt brat, Benji. Benji hasn't much to do, in his 'gap year', so he sits at home, wanking. Indeed, Benji's masturbation top & tails Heterodex. I thought Benji was gay, until he has a raunchy affair with knowing peer, Rafaella Horowitz (Rachel Ferris, making the most of another unenviable role), whose career veers between the respectability of being a working girl and shame of being a partner in a new kind of drug crime. Confused? Me too. And why are all these people Jewish? It seems so arbitrary and a distracting departure from the central idea (as distracting as the malfunctioning series of images projected above the action, onto a round screen, resembling a moon, which only served to point to the lunacy of the whole project). Did the writers think Jewish characters would make the play intrinsically funnier? Are Jewish people as amusing as gay people? Or even moreso?

Considering the authors, presumably, set out to put the cat amongst the 'moral majority' of pigeons, they've done an ironic, if unwitting, amount of pigeonholing themselves. Both gay and Jewish people come off looking ridiculous, to the point of early-30s propaganda. They look a lot sillier than the sometimes misguided scientists and technologists behind big pharma, that have brought us the likes of, say Thalidomide; let alone the (ahem!) do-gooders who sought to 'cure' homosexuality with, say, aversion therapy.

Professor Marvyn Younge is preposterous, from start to finish. Overacted (then again what else was he to do?) by Daniel Spehars, the elongated spiv with the skunk streak in his mane is the best friend and cuckolder of Murray, the latter having commissioned him to sexually satisfy his then wife (who's long since committed suicide). Yeah, right: I guess that qualifies as absurd. But absurd-annoying, not absurd-funny. Perhaps that's why, among the small audience, there were precious few laughs.

Nicola Furst is wedged in as Babs' opportunistic, pseudo-new age masseur, Audrey Rose; something of a love interest for Muz, while under the influence of the infamous 'H', as is Rafaella. (Ah! At least the drug works; better than the plot, anyway.) Like Ferris and, indeed, most, or all, of the actors, Furst makes a fine fist of it. Indeed, I'd every sense these actors weren't at all bad, but made to look bad, by an impossible, intractable script. Having said that, Brian Shields under-performance as barman at (the program informs) the (sadly defunct) Hakoah club takes more explaining.

Legend has it 'the play touches upon themes such as unrequited love, sexual repression & obsession, power, fame and wealth'. Touches is the word. But there are no touchstones. That promising premise is never tested, or developed. It's like the Sarich orbital engine, or, better yet, Wankel rotary: revolutionary ideas never really brought to meaningful fruition. Yes, there were one or two creditable lines, but most were party to a self-indulgent spiral downwards into dramatic narcissism. While the set design was cleverly utilitarian, it's construction and aesthetic was somewhat naff.

The most amusing and redeeming aspect of the piece came during interval, while the stage was reset, while the cast remained in character. This improvisation far exceeded the text and, among little else on this modest occasion, was testament to the judgment, gentle genius and inventiveness of (director) Riley, hitting her straps.

Heterodex might be the presecription for gays, to join the  crooked straight world, but it's no prescription for an entertaining night of theatre. or a thought-provoking one. It falls far shorter than its tall and clearly talented co-writer, Ken Granneman. As for his counterpart, Dr Oliver O'Connell, I foresee a great future. In medicine.

Being a critic is the best of jobs. And the worst. Occasionally, it's a lesson in how to lose friends and influence people. Artistic director, Roz Riley, is well-known to me and is to be admired for a prodigious body of work. Heterodex, though, isn't fit for her resume. Or your viewing. You win some. You lose some.

May I direct you towards Factory Space next: Noel Coward's, The Vortex? Now that's a promising premise for a production!


The Factory Space Theatre Company
HETERODEX®
By Dr Oliver O’Connell & Ken Granneman

Venue: Zenith Theatre, Chatswood
Dates: August 1 – 16 
Times: Fri 1, Thur 7, Fri 8, Sat 9, Thur 14, Fri 15 and Sat 16 Aug at 8pm
Matinee: Sunday 10 Aug 3pm
Tickets: $30 / $25
Bookings: 9411 7088 

Only suitable for adults

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