It’s been a long time in the making but Red Stitch Actors' Theatre was at last able to present the world premiere of Prayer Machine. Written by Eric Gardiner (Bounty) and developed as part of Red Stitch’s INK Writers program, Prayer Machine is an intricate portrait of love, loss, and what a wasted life really means.
The two-hander piece was performed superbly by Joe Petruzzi and Patrick Williams, two former lovers reunited in middle age who could almost be a modern-day version of the Odd Couple in their approach to life.
Petruzzi pulls at the heartstrings with his boyish naiveite and romantic expectations and is duly built up and tortured by Williams who uses everything in his armoury to bring him down.
The set is minimalistic, and the scene changes slightly clunky, but the two actors remain grounded throughout the 80-minute performance which sees them rarely leave the stage. Prayer Machine is a slow burn of a play and at first, I was unsure but as time wore on these two talented storytellers brought the audience into their world with such subtle energy that by the final scene it was impossible not to be invested in their journey.
The play delves deep into nostalgia, into the idea of play and lost youth and how what once brought us together now drives us apart. The characters are no longer equals in their middle age and Williams who plays Peterson with a hard-edged energy uses the class divide between himself and Petruzzi’s Cantona to his advantage.
What’s most intriguing is whether Peterson is actually intentionally cruel to Cantona throughout the play or if it is just a reflection on his own self-worth. Regardless, it’s difficult to watch Cantona be trampled upon again and again, as if his loyalty will finally deem him worthy of Peterson’s affection.
A justifiable ending and a stunning monologue from Williams goes as far as possible to redeem his character, but perhaps the damage has been done and his idea of life worth living was wrong all along.
In the end we live with our choices, as do these two star-crossed lovers in a tale produced carefully and intelligently by Red Stich Actors Theatre.
Red Stitch Actors' Theatre presents
by Eric Gardiner
Director Krystalla Pearce
Venue: Red Stitch | Rear 2 Chapel Street (Behind All Saint Church) St Kilda East VIC
Dates: 17 – 28 November 2021
Tickets: $42 – $55