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11 September, 2021

Sewell's 'falling-man' - Myth, Propaganda and Disaster

Twenty years ago, the world was stunned. Perhaps the single most audacious terrorist action had occurred, 9/11. As the world sat mute, attempting to process what unfolded before their eyes, emotions simmered as the world entered a new era.

By Peter McCullagh

PHOTOS: Barton Photograph

Last night Cairns audiences were treated to opening night of Kevin West’s production of Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America (MythPD).

This morning I sat, processing last night, reflecting upon what I saw and how it moved, challenged, and disturbed me.

Opening nights can always have a sense of anticipation, excitement and for some dread. Last night’s production lived up to expectation. We all responded differently to the events of twenty years ago, but one single emotion ran true in the days and weeks that followed. “This was not real. This could not be the new reality?”

MythPD by Stephen Sewell, tapped into the question of reality. Challenged the notion of a distorted view on a sequence of events and attempted to strike a spark inside the audience. That spark should take hold as the play unfolds, growing into a flame that consumes the notion of challenging what we see, believe and looking deeper for where the truth actually lies.

The story is simple. An Australian professor (Talbot) played by Matt O’Connor, lecturing at an Ivy League University in New York, challenges his American students, friends and colleagues to review the events of 9/11 and their resultant emotions and seek a deeper ’reality’.

  MythPD is a must-see play.  

Wishing to challenge and fuel discussion, that America had descended to the depths of Nazi Germany when it comes to distortion of reality and the creation of myths. Talbot was always destined to come to the attention of authorities.

Talbot is married to an aspiring American screenwriter, Eve (Sarah Moore). Eve is steadily building her profile and career as Talbot’s career takes the predicted turn for the worse and crashes to greater depths than one could imagine, becoming Sewell’s own version of ‘falling man’.

Woven throughout the play is “The Man”, (Jim Gosden), a shadowy sinister figure tormenting Talbot and slowly unravelling his career and life, with the assistance of one of Talbots university colleagues.

It’s a story in halves. The Australian professor as the dispassionate voice challenging the emotive Americans as they struggled to process the events of 9/11. Then the emotionally charged Australian professor rallying unsuccessfully against his ‘reality’ trying to come to terms with events out of his control whilst his friends looked on dispassionately and unable and unwilling to share in his emotional decay.

  MythPD should be on the ‘unsocial’ calendar of all Cairns theatre goers.  

Does the play live up to expectations? Yes. I knew this would be a tough play to sit through. As a white middle-class white male, with a strong belief in the establishment, the play was always going to be a struggle. But it was important to attend, open my mind and challenge my beliefs. This play was the perfect foil for that.

Does the performance successfully capture the essence of Sewell? Yes. The only criticism would be the vocal aggression of the production. It could be seen as shouty. Starts high in emotion and continues there for two hours, leaving you feeling drained and seeking solitude to process.

Perhaps that is the intention of West as he interprets  Sewell. In much the same way, one minor technical audio hitch on opening night had us squirming in our seats. The taser SFX mal-functioned and ran through the entire scene instead of just when applied. I did remark to West after the production that we felt uncomfortable, and this was befitting the torture scene.

It was a good production, crafted well, interpreted accurately, and carried with a fine cast of actors.

Matt O’Connor (Talbot) was credible and comfortable in his emotionally charged role. To hold his character at the emotional levels required for two hours on stage was a feat.

His wife Eve (Sarah Moore) was a shining star. On the rise as a struggling screenwriter reaching a peak and seeing her own ‘falling-man’ Talbot plummet to the depths. Her New York accent was on pitch, perhaps a little Fran Drescher at time but totally in character.

Talbot’s colleagues, Stan (Vincent Strange) and Jack (Adrian Norman) supported strongly. Their wives Amy (Heidi Davies) and Jill (Hollie Grainger-Dee) captured the emotion and anger of the era., from the opening scenes as they witness the destruction of the Twin Towers through to a dinner party where emotions ran almost out of control, they transported us, the audience into this maze of mixed feelings and reality.

Supporting, but also essential in the distortion of reality were Mark Chivers (Max), Azizah Pertiwi (Margurite), Jim Gosden (“The Man”) along with the Therapist (Debbie Dean) and security guards, (Patrick Platon and Maurice Arrias).

It was a large cast, with diversity of experience and skills. West has gathered, cast and collectively they have delivered. A difficult play about a difficult time, performed at a time when the world is being challenged and realities changing.

MythPD is a must-see play. West could not have chosen a more fitting time to produce this epic. Twenty years after 9/11, in the midst of a pandemic, when governments are issuing daily updates, and conspiracy theorists are finding fresh and alarming platforms to broadcast messages of disruption, MythPD should be on the ‘unsocial’ calendar of all Cairns theatre goers.

WE need to support local productions. The Rondo Theatre is committed to a diverse production program this year and should be congratulated to supporting West and his cast in their disturbing and wonderful production of Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America.

The play continues through to Saturday September 18, tickets are available through Ticketlink.

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