The writers of Greek tragedies were well-versed at linking the viciousness of the Gods with our notions of what is truly abhorrent – audiences experienced the travails of Oedipus marrying his mother and the infamous Medea who murdered her brother and children in the ultimate act of revenge. It is in this context that Melbourne audiences anticipated what would transpire in Christos Tsiolkas’ Merciless Gods.
Akin to “liking” a challenging post of Facebook, I can’t say that audiences (myself included) actually enjoyed the play but that was not its purpose.
Presented with eight vignettes performed by a cast of six on a minimalist stage, we experienced an expose of the characters’ darkest sides wrapped up in scenes of the depravity of humanity – violent sex, porn, drugs use to name but a few. The play possibly covers a gamut of “misa” words – is Tsiolakas a true misanthrope or maybe just a misandrist?
In terms of performances, Jennifer Vuletic is mesmerising in all her roles - an Italian-Australian nonna, a dying man attending to his own last rites and a Surry Hills druggie. As a hard-drinking narcissist mother she is definitely not a disahabiliphobic! But her strident presence on-stage seems to overshadow the performances of other cast members.
Although the vignettes do graphically portray this depravity, a more concrete thread linking these disparate human experiences would have been preferable however this may reflect a preference for this theatrical complexity rather than echo the brutal obviousness of these experiences that Tsiolakas wants to reveal?
Being focused on the brutality of the human condition, the play is more of a downward spiral than a roller coaster ride usually experienced in everyday life. In Tsiolakas’ world there are only “downs” and no “ups”. As such the play is confronting, the language often offensive and almost abusive in its effect on the audience. Not a play for everyone but this does not detract from its veracity or the accomplished performances of the cast whose versatility in playing multiples roles is outstanding.
Dates: 6 - 10 February Times: Nightly at 7.30 pm. Matinee shows at Saturday 9 Feb at 2:00 PM and Sunday 10 February at 5:00 PM Location: Fairfax Studio (Arts Centre, St Kilda Road, Melbourne)
Duration: 100 Minutes (plus 20 minute interval) Cost: Adult $47, Concession $38 Arts Centre Website