Thursday, 4 March 1999
The Terms and Grammar of Creation, 4 Mar 1999
by Bill Garner and Sue Gore
at the Domed Reading Room, State Library until March 13, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
It is nothing new to be shafted by a co-worker or a boss. Evidently it was common practice in the Victorian Public Service even at the turn of the century and, more distressingly, in the hallowed halls of the State Library. Is nothing sacred?
There were not merely shaftings but bun-fights, tantrums, factions, playground squabbles, political manipulations, jobs for the boys, subversion and all other Macchiavellian activity. The comic-tragic truth is that they drew blood over the American Dewey decimal system.
Astoundingly, the two main players in the Library power struggle, Amos Brazier, Sub Librarian (Ian Scott) and Edmund La Touche Armstrong, Chief Librarian (Ernie Gray), were grown men with Masters degrees, educated at Scotch and Melbourne Grammar. Graduates from these schools still behave like head prefect bullies.
Directed humorously by Humphrey Bower in the gloriously opulent and inspiring Domed Reading Room of the State Library, Bill Garner and Sue Gore's play, The Terms and Grammar of Creation, retrieves and revives the fiercely nationalistic, profoundly committed literary soul of Brazier, Armstrong's antagonist who was virtually expunged from library history.
Brazier, played with great dignity and relish by Scott, is a philosopher and literary aficionado whose life work leads to his publication, The Terms and the Grammar of Creation. In this, he describes the principle of creation as, "Will, in and from love, proceeds to life." He is accompanied by a mysterious ethereal singing Muse (Ruth Schoenheimer).
On the other hand, accountant, Robert Boys (Ben Rogan)shadows the lawyer, Armstrong. We are confronted with the battle between a man who values literature, philosophy and Australian classification (Dewey put Australian Literature with Ceylon) and another who values a beautiful building and a scientific classification system. Science and economic rationalism won - although Armstrong got shafted too, finally.
The script is witty, engaging and thoroughly entertaining, informative.without being didactic or dull although it could lose a few scenes in the second half. Gray is hilarious as the limp and ambitious Armstrong for whom his Chief Librarian's hat represents ultimate power. Rogan plays several roles with distinction and hilarity and Schoenheimer is at her best as the voice of the muse reverberating around the dome.
Armstrong may have been a jerk, but at least he left us the Reading Room.