By Christian Lollike
Directed by Andre Bastian
With Dion Mills, Tim Potter, Meredith Penham & Chris Saxton
Set by Peter Mumford
Lighting by Stelios Karagiannis
Choreography by Peta Coy
Stage Manager Olivia Crockford
The Work of Wonder (19 Nov – 20 Dec, 2008)
Cameron Woodhead, The Age (24/11/08)
AVANT-GARDE composer Karlheinz Stockhausen caused great controversy when he referred to 9/11 as “the greatest work of art of all time”. Denunciations came thick and fast. Even his daughter changed her name in protest.
Of course, it’s a grossly insensitive statement. Yet that alone doesn’t account for the fuss it caused. Stockhausen touched a nerve because he highlighted a profound anxiety about the place of art in postmodern society.
In The Work of Wonder, Danish playwright Christian Lollike uses Stockhausen’s remark as a springboard into a provocative examination of art, faith and terror.
The play is a wild piece that is deeply informed by postmodern theory and culture. Lollike uses a now conventional meta-theatrical framework: the play is about four young actors (Dion Mills, Tim Potter, Meredith Penman, Chris Saxton) putting on a play, or trying to.
It opens with a discussion of the implications of Stockhausen’s remark which degenerates into black comic one-upmanship: Is 9/11 or famine in Africa the greater work of art?
Complicating matters is a contrapuntal conversation featuring the morbid extremities – genital mutilations, public suicide attempts – of contemporary performance art.
The titular “work of wonder” is an atrocity so apocalyptic that it punctures the self-reflexive web of reality in which the actors are caught.
Lollike’s characters are classic incarnations of postmodern angst. They live in a world where news is mediated by dramatic convention, and emotional responses to it are pre-empted and rendered into cliche by Hollywood films.
Their attempts to access something approaching genuine feeling keep running into a wall of paranoid irony. But the horrors they keep distracting themselves from do eventually emerge.
The actors have the timing and presence to make Lollike’s grotesque humour distressingly funny, and their histrionic skill ensures that the denouement justifies the play’s more onanistic tendencies.
Director Andre Bastian seems to be on top of the philosophically dense material, and the sense of psychic entrapment is enhanced by Peta Coy’s choreography.
Though their influence is apparent, you don’t need to have read the postmoderns to appreciate The Work of Wonder. Besides, this crackling, irreverent vision views the strictures of po-mo theory as every bit as closed a circle of beliefs as those of fundamentalist Islam.