Thursday, 19 February 1998
Dialogue Between a Priest and A Dying Man, de Sade, Feb 19, 1998
Dialogue Between a Priest and A Dying Man, by Marquis de Sade
at La Mama until March 1, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Feb 17 1998
The work of the Marquis de Sade is generally read rather than performed, although, perhaps in privacy of some homes - who knows?
His "Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man", directed by David Meadows who also plays the dying man, is a Socratic dialogue between a hedonistic, disease-riddled man and an insubstantial priest (Kiran D'Costa) who wishes to save him from hell-fire.
The design is simply white cloth decking wall and table, piles of neatly folded clothing and a symbolically cruciform pile of white shoeboxes and the transferring of clothing to boxes is the sum of the physical action.
The text is thick with theological concepts, philosophical argument and moral dilemmas. It is a fascinating diatribe. The Man questions the after-life. He calls the priest's god "superfluous' wonders why one would choose a Christian god as opposed to any other. He suggests that Jesus was killed because he was a troublemaker and that humans should shun crime through reason not through fear of divine retribution.
The problems arise not in the wonderful density of de Sade's material but in the performances. As the dying man, Meadows is a large and powerful presence and there are a couple of distinctive moments when we see his potential, but he rushes through the text like a juggernaut. It is philosophy on speed. This relentless pace makes it almost impossible to grasp all the subtleties of the argument because it leaves no space for reflection.
Having an outside director might have solved this glitch. The directorial eye may have dealt with Meadows being in profile for most of the 35 minutes, which diminishes his strength. The metaphorical filling of the boxes and shrinking of the crucifix becomes repetitive
The final image of the naked, dying man was too swift and it would have been riveting to witness the confused, nearly corrupted priest, lingering over his downfall as he peeled off his clothing to follow the Man to the six waiting women. The finish is performed in an unsatisfying rush.
The role of the listener is a difficult one requiring both intensity and detail but D'Costa's performance lacks weight and he is swamped by Meadows' gravitas.
Some rapid changes of staging and slower paced delivery of such a complex text would lift this show 100 percent. It has potential.