Thursday, 7 June 2018

Fury by Johanna Murray-Smith - Red Stitch

Danielle Carter & Sean Rees-Wemyss in Fury
Photo: Teresa Noble Photography


In American Song, staged by Red Stitch in 2017, Johanna Murray-Smith explored gun violence in America and a father trying to come to terms with the actions of his son. It was a clear, probing insight into tragedy, guilt and the aftermath of both.

Murray-Smith’s Fury covers similar territory in a milieu the writer is more familiar with – the middle-class Australian suburban home. And it feels like the script is treading water.

Patrick and Alice’s son, Joe, has been caught defacing a mosque. What have they done to let Joe think this is acceptable? Or, more tellingly, what have they done to deserve this?

Their first instinct, which seems natural, is to blame Ethan, the other boy that was with Joe on the night of the incident. Ethan is from a working class family and is only at private school on a scholarship. Ethan’s parents, Annie and Warren, are rough around the edges; well, to be clear, they’re racists and it’s easy to see where their kid might have picked up some bad behaviour.

Joe, though, does himself no favours, ranting like a right-wing shock jock about Muslims and jihad. And soon it becomes clear that if Ethan is not to blame; maybe Patrick and Alice should turn the spotlight on themselves.

Fury takes on a lot of interesting ideas without really exploring them in much depth. What is the role of in the internet in all of this? How does the media feed into this paranoia? What more could the parents have done in this situation?

Much of the drama revolves around Patrick and Alice’s white liberal guilt, bringing up long-simmering tensions about their marriage and who sacrificed the most for each other’s careers. To take a dramatic situation like a hate crime and turn it into a kitchen sink melodrama is what Murray-Smith is known for.

Directors Brett Cousins and Ella Caldwell seem more interested in giving their actors free reign rather than interrogating the text. The play itself seems dated; arguments like this feel like they might have been cutting edge a decade or more ago. This is not to say the play is not relevant, but is it damning white liberal guilt or is it praising it?

Designer Chloe Greaves gives us an awkward revolving curtain around naturalistic set pieces; each scene change is a mix of blackout and the curtain dragged by a stagehand.

Sean Rees-Wemyss as Joe is wonderful as a privileged teenage boy, a character who unfortunately only has two dimensions. His relationship with his teacher (played by Dushan Philips) is spiky and their dynamic is the richest on stage; you never know quite where things will end up in their scenes.

Danielle Carter’s Alice has an early scene in the show where she describes a woman’s righteous fury in a patriarchal world and we get little further insight into this idea. Carter’s performance is mostly played at various levels of shouting, which Joe Petruzzi’s Patrick tries to be the calm rational one.

There’s another moment near the start of Fury where Alice physically lashes out at Joe. It upends the repetitious staccato dialogue of the show to that point and suggested things might spiral away from the strictly cerebral text it had been. But no such luck.

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