Left - Dylan Young, Nicole Da Silva and Ashley Zukerman. Cover - Dylan Young and Nicole Da Silva. Photos - Jeff Busby
Mary, Joseph, and divine impregnation: we’ve heard this somewhere before. Place them in a time that may or may not be the present and surround them with bazaar avian fantasies, and the product is Rita Kalnejais’s rather remarkable B.C.
The characters and the majority of the settings in this work are instantly recognisable. Mary (Nicole Da Silva) has a job at a hair salon, and at age fifteen is eagerly awaiting her first kiss. Her mother Anne (Margaret Mills) has survived breast cancer and is living with scars that are more than just physical. Meanwhile, her property agent father Joachim (Tyler Coppin), finds solace in other people’s houses for more enjoyable activities it seems than just work. It is therefore left to Mary to care for her mentally disabled brother Gabriel (Dylan Young) and she does so in a way that her mother is unable and her father unwilling; with equal parts patience, firmness and understanding.
A great deal of this work’s humour and charm is due to the way Kalnejais manages to find the whimsy in what would otherwise be mundane circumstances. Then under Simon Stone’s direction and the brilliant performances of all cast members, moments such as being fitted for new runners, eating cheezel rings from fingers, and listening for the heartbeat of a bird, take on a physical immediacy, not to mention an often wicked ambiguity.
Although much of B.C. is Mary’s story, it belongs to Gabriel. In one of the many references to the Bible, Gabriel has great powers. In this work, the scenes or characters he conjures up are sometimes unsettling; even more so because it is rarely clear whether they are a product of his imagination or a part of his reality. Not only do a concerning number of dead birds seem to find their way to him but he is followed by characters that are a hybrid of human and bird, and he converses with these more easily than anyone else. Gabriel’s approach to birds is of both admiration and envy, perhaps because unlike Gabriel, they have been blessed with wings – a means of escape.
Integral to this work and its seamless transition between naturalism and allegory, is Claude Marcos’s set. The action and characters pivot around a wall of sliding doors that, in tandem with the exquisite positioning and design of Kimberly Kwa’s lighting, magically transform from a reflective mirror to transparent glass. In turn it creates and demarcates a single space, such as the wall of the family home, or alternatively, two concurrently visible spaces, such as the house interior and the backyard or two sides of the bus shelter. The action and characters on the ‘other’ side of this screen to the audience become slightly surreal but still audible, they are no less confronting. The startling thud of a human-sized bird hitting the window, leaving in its wake feathers, and a rich, bloody smear on the glass, is one such instance.
The most arresting scene is so artistically intriguing that it merits consideration as a work all in itself. The scene begins with a naked angel who stands on one side of the glass, bathed in soft light and surrounded by falling white feathers. His lover stands on the opposite side of the glass and the two calmly talk to each other. What eventuates is a love scene between the two and though physically separated by glass and with the talk of awkward first time lovers, their movements are choreographed in such a way that the performers appear to be touching and together they create a most intimate poetry.
This is a work with more than a few moments of brilliance, not least the performances. Young, in his demanding role, is outstanding, and he and Da Silva share some lovely scenes. Ashley Zukerman as Joseph, the fit and rather tactless guy from the sports store, is yet to master his accent, but also shows great chemistry with Da Silva and somewhat unexpectedly, with Mills.
There are however some troubling elements and at their core is the problematic character of Joachim. To begin, there is the insinuation of an inappropriate relationship between he and Mary. Such a complex and controversial theme demands attention and some form or exploration, but there is no attempt to do so and there is certainly not the room. Kalnejais has also stripped Joachim of any likeable attributes, let alone insight into his motivations. Instead his character seems to have been created for the sole purpose of offering an explanation for the emotional state and dysfunction of his family, and this is all a little too convenient.
As a fellow theatregoer pointed out, there is a lot to unpack in B.C., and this attempt to do so feels less than adequately reflective of its contents. It is a work in which, like life, not everything makes sense, but it is testament to the fact that when approached with just the right balance of humour, artistry and respect, experience is often of greater value than any explanation.
The Hayloft Project presents
by Rita Kalnejais
Director Simon Stone
Venue: the Arts Centre, BlackBox Theatre
Dates: 30 Nov - 19 Dec 2009
Tickets: $23 - $28
Bookings: 1300 182 183 | www.theartscentre.com.au