Wednesday, 4 June 2003

Myth, Propaganda and Disaster ...Sewel, June 4, 2003

Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America
By Stephen Sewell  by Playbox Theatre  and State Theatre Company of south Australia
Merlyn Theatre, Playbox Theatre, June 4 to 2, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

In Stephen Sewell's new play, the protagonist, Talbot,  (Nicholas Eadie), may draw a long bow with his comparison of the current American government with fascism.

The title of Talbot's book is the title of the play: Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America. Talbot claims it is an academic essay not a criticism of the American government. Unfortunately secret powers disagree and his life is radically transformed.

The play is an overtly political statement on the new conservatism in Australia and America arising out of recent issues in the Middle East and the so-called New World Order  since September 11. Sewell uses the world of an American university as the vehicle to explore the fear, paranoia and racism that propel governments into increased security and intelligence seeking.

The play is essentially a witch-hunt, echoing McCarthyism in the 1950s. Somebody must be blamed. Let's make it the leftists and liberals.

Talbot, an Australian professor, teaches Politics in an MBA (Master of Business Administration). His fraught wife, Eve,  (Alison Whyte) writes scripts for the Hollywood machine while his Aussie mate (Tom Considine) wants a teaching job in the USA. Talbot's conservative department boss, Jack,  (Michael Habib) is manipulative and self-seeking. Jack's wife (Jacqy Phillips) is a whisky soaked rich tart.

The play is a thriller in part. A dangerous stranger (Greg Stone) with uncanny knowledge of Talbot, invades Talbot's office and home. Talbot is beaten, incarcerated and finally tortured. Is the invader real or a paranoid delusion? Is he being punished for talking to a student (Ming Zhu Hii  alone in his rooms?

The acting from the entire ensemble is intelligent and rivetting.  The production, directed by Aubrey Mellor,  is compelling with a striking, clinical design by Shaun Gurton  and stark lighting by Mark Shelton. The rising panic and frenzy is accentuated by David Franzke's  sound design.

Sewell's script is ambitious and effective in the most part. The first half is the more coherent. The later half becomes verbose and focuses on too many characters and minor story threads. All the characters are markedly dislikeable and they function generally as ciphers for particular views.

Some incidental characters seem extraneous, such as the psychiatrist (Phillips) and Jill,  (Martha Lott) the wife of the university lawyer. (Robert Macpherson) The rising tide of right wing activity in America and Australia's support of Bush is the target for this piece.

The outcome of this grim and gripping tale may appear unlikely, but are we so far from the secret service running clandestine agendas?

By Kate Herbert

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