By Mick Gordon and Paul Broks
Directed by Daniel Frederiksen
With Tim Ross, Andrea Swifte, Denis Moore & James Taylor
Assistant Director: Olga Makeeva
Set: Peter Mumford
Lighting: Stelios Karagiannis
AV: Sam Santana
Sound: Toby Wilkins
Costumes: Fiona Harkness
Stage Manager: Olivia Crockford
On Ego (Nov 18 – Dec 19)
Kate Rose, Sunday Herald Sun 29/11/09
What makes us, us?
It’s a question philosophers, theologians and scientists have been wrestling with for centuries. Did God make the brain, or does the brain make God?
Neuropsychologist Paul Broks and playwright Mick Gordon do their best in On Ego to wrestle an answer out of this conundrum — as well as acknowledging half the fun is in the argument.
So it’s a smackdown between science and spirituality, Soren Kierkegaard’s ‘leap of faith’ and Friedrich Nietzsche’s potentially bleak existentialism, played out with humour, author Milan Kundera and a teleporter.
Alex (Denis Moore) is an adamant ‘bundle’ theorist — people are made up of their neurons and cells and flesh and electrical impulses and nothing else. There is no ‘I’. So when during experiments with his colleague and father-in-law Derek (Tim Ross) he has the chance to teleport and be completely reconstructed somewhere else while his original body is vaporised, he has no intellectual opposition to the plan.
His wife, ego theorist Alice (Andrea Swifte), is battling a brain tumour, however, and believes there has to be more to a person than simply the physical structure of their grey matter.
It’s a debate that has engaged some of philosophy’s big names, from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to Camus and Sartre, all of whom ask their readers in one way or another to stare into an abyss.
Just as Kierkegaard faltered and clung to his leap of faith — he could not prove a god, but could not live without one — Alex is forced to a crisis of his scientific faith.
Can he really believe we are nothing more than 1 1/2 kg of meat inside a skull, no matter how impressive and un-steak-like the behaviour of that meat is?
Anyone who’s read Sartre — or looked at the bleak photos on his books’ dust jackets — knows these arguments can be dark and relentless, but the playwrights and the cast make the 80 minutes of On Ego joyous, hopeful and full of love.
Chris Boyd, Herald Sun 24/11/09
ALEX (Denis Moore) and his wife (Andrea Swifte) are about to celebrate their anniversary by going out to dinner, a re-enactment of the day he proposed to her. He teleports to meet her and arrives safely. The machine malfunctions, however, and merely duplicates Alex instead of vaporising the original.
Houston, we’ve had a problem here.
Like a cross between an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and a Geoffrey Robertson hypothetical, On Egowonders which Alex has the greater right to continue. The perfect replica, complete with memories and experiences, or the original left behind?
Alex is a scientist and lecturer. He tells us the brain is a story-telling machine. The self is a story. There is no soul, no ghost in the machine, no essence, no ego. Just a big handful of offal with a few billion nerve cells firing.
Playwright Mick Gordon is best known for theatre essays written in collaboration with specialists and academics. His play On Religionwas written with atheist philosopher A.C. Grayling; On Death with hospice worker and psychologist Marie de Hennezel; and On Egowith neuropsychologist Paul Broks.
Gordon does for our playhouses what Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, does for readers. He repackages complex ideas and thorny issues in ways that entertain and enlighten, even if there is some dumbing down.
A revised version of On Religion, entitled Grace, was performed by the MTC in January with Noni Hazlehurst playing Grace, a militant atheist. But, too often, the punches missed.
And that’s a problem On Ego shares. Everything is black or white. You’re either an ego theorist or a bundle theorist. There’s no room for a third way.
Naively, Gordon takes for granted that we are less valuable for being less than divine. And that’s a mistake that Star Trek would never make.
Daniel Frederiksen’s directorial debut is remarkably assured. There might not be a ghost in it, but his machine is very well oiled.