It’s difficult to know what director Steven Mitchell Wright was hoping to accomplish with Sons of Sin.
The mechanical premise of the show is relatively straightforward. Bearing a striking conceptual resemblance to Daniel Santangeli’s Room 328 (World Theatre Festival, 2011), an audience is locked in a venue with a cadre of post-adolescent men intent on enjoying a drunken night of debauchery.
Through the proxy of a drinking game, audiences are subject to distorted renditions of the various implicit aspects of such a night (violence, camaraderie, sex, vulnerability, embarrassment) across a collage of impressionistic and exaggeratory theatrical devices (music, monologue, games, drama, audience interaction).
It’s ostensibly concerned with masculinity. Throughout, there are repeated references to being a man, fathers, boyhood and maturity. The production is littered with overt references to filial figures of mythology (Icarus, Christ). However, whether Wright hoped to interrogate, document or satirise that concept of masculinity is unclear. Really, he falls short on all counts.
As an interrogation of masculinity, Sons of Sin is utterly shallow. There is really no interrogation present. The cast proclaim at the production’s outset that they are not playing characters but themselves. In actuality, their performances are neither characters nor persons but caricatures. They’re never afforded any opportunity to be otherwise.
There are a number of audience interactions that are supposed to foster moments of vulnerability and honesty among the cast members. As a key example, one of the drinking games (Hot Seat) involves a performer being forced to truthfully answer any question (from audience and cast alike) for two minutes. Except, cast members strictly govern the tone of that interrogation by asking almost exclusively sexually explicit hypotheticals.
Similarly, another drinking game (Dare) is limited by performers coaching audiences to ‘be as fucked-up as [they] want’ and perpetually suggesting nudity. The prohibitive nature of this tone is exacerbated by performers vocally disregarding the suggestions of audience members that do not conform to their pre-selected criteria of nudity, sexuality and homophobia in both games.
Whenever cast members are actually invited to be vulnerable, they shy away. When a performer in the Hot Seat is asked how his mother feels about his involvement in the performance, he dodges the question with a quip. A series of monologues relating to the performers‘ fathers and loved ones would seem to be designed to invite empathy but are delivered as fist-clenched, tears-held-back, Hollywood monologues. There is no honesty.
That lack of honesty and vulnerability similarly undercuts Sons of Sin’s merit as a documenting of masculinity. It presents only the most superficial aspects of a young man’s identity. What psychodrama is involved (largely via the aforementioned monologues) is largely borrowed wholesale from the rhetoric of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. Which is to say, it’s simply another cliche of masculinity thrown into the fray.
The production’s credibility as an accurate portrayal of masculinity is further undercut by its refusal to fully venture into the reality of its subjects. The production trades in the shock of spectacle. However, it never presents anything truly shocking. There is little actual violence. Our performers would seem to be disinterested in both cigarettes and illicit substances. Even their swearing seems to be more for effect than habitual. A gratuitous rape scene shocks more by its cheap inclusion than its graphic content.
Sons of Sin’s potential as a satire is undone by that lack of reality. If a production cannot match reality’s impact, it has little hope of extending, distorting or offering comment on it. Which begs the question – what was Steven Mitchell Wright and his collaborators attempting with Sons of Sin? The Danger Ensemble might have simply hoped to craft a performance informed by the aesthetics of masculinity – but otherwise unrelated to it.
In the context of such a mantra, Sons of Sin proves more rewarding. There are many visual cues that will stay with an audience. A bathtub drenched in blood. An angel crying out for adolescent dreams faded. Christ begging God for understanding. The Danger Ensemble’s strength has always been design. If one allows that Sons of Sin’s thematic content is merely another aesthetic component of a collage, it’s a more palatable work.
It doesn’t quite work, however. Other factors conspire to hamper Sons of Sin’s impact as an aesthetic work. A bloated, repetitive two-and-a-half hour runtime, for one. More emphatically, an utter lack of substance. Sons of Sin may be punctuated by the occasional beautiful image – but it’s a hollow, boring experience. And, frankly, the hubris of presuming such ill-considered posturing is in anyway representative of masculinity is almost offensive.
The Danger Ensemble & The Judith Wright Centre present
SONS OF SIN
Venue: Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts
Dates: 16 – 25 May, 2013
Bookings: www.judithwrightcentre.com | 07 3872 9000