Myth, Propaganda & Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America

Stephen Sewell
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond
(2004)

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Stephen Sewell is one of Australia's foremost writers for film and stage. Already, Myth has won more awards than any other play in Australian history and this will come as no surprise to anybody who sees it.

The play is a reworking of Franz Kafka's The Trial updated to 21st Century New York, but it also pays homage to Orwell's 1984 and Mamet's Oleanna, not to mention a dozen, primarily left-leaning philosophers.

Initially, it seems to be telling the simple and very familiar tale of a socialist Australian professor at a New York University. Talbot Finch, given searing life by Jonathan Guy Lewis, is very successful, about to receive tenure, with a wife who is a screenwriter on the verge of fame, fortune and Michael Douglas.

All goes well until he is visited by one of his students, Julia Sandiford's Marguerite Lee, the beautiful and highly intelligent daughter of a Far Eastern business magnate.

Her visit is swiftly followed by that of the incredibly sinister, omniscient "Man", played by a terrifying David Rintoul with McCarthyite zeal. Whether he is in Finch's head or is real is open to doubt. Either way, he seems able to appear from the ether but packs a mean punch, aided by a pistol and at the end, a scary piece of electrical apparatus.

From the smartly-dressed man's initial invasive arrival, Finch's world implodes. Colleagues gleefully turn on him and his career and life swiftly go to pieces. Love does still exist in this world, though as, despite his woes, Eve and Marguerite both offer different kinds of support.

Through his protagonist, Sewell makes a pretty compelling case for serious worries about where the War on Terror might eventually lead both in the USA and more widely.

Sam Walters marshals his cast with great skill and they reward him with a series of good performances, Lewis and Rintoul to the fore but with Amanda Royle as Finch's wife Eve close behind.

Despite the sometimes wordy politicking, the production has the pacing of a TV thriller, assisted by very short scenes broken with bright, explosive suddenness.

By the end of a chilling two and three quarter hours, one is almost persuaded that there are serious parallels between Kafka's world and that of Sewell and by extension ourselves.

The only conclusion that one can reach is that latter-day America, with its neurosis about security and desire to control, needs to take care to avoid stepping over the edge of a very high cliff into the abyss of individual fear and not too far beyond, global carnage.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher