By Peter Maddern
It is not that long ago that those with severe disabilities – genetic or acquired – were near totally locked away from the general public view and treated very much as second or third grade citizens. Bit by bit, these mind sets have been and are being dismantled in favour of a world that is more empathetic that can go beyond being responsive only to the tune of ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’
Bravely advancing this trend, Playwright Sue Smith draws upon her own experiences of being diagnosed with cancer and discovering what it is like having it. “Facing a life that is suddenly and shockingly compromised requires an entirely different type of courage [beyond the realisation that life itself is finite],” she writes in the play’s program. In Machu Picchu, the scene is set when married couple Paul and Gabby have their lives torn apart in a car accident that leaves Paul (Darren Gilshenan) a quadriplegic and Gabby (Lisa McCune) his wife wondering what all this means for her too.
Through various flashbacks that also involve their good friends Kim (Elena Carapetis) and Marty (Luke Joslin), daughter Lucy (Annabel Matheson) and shrink Lou (Renato Musolino), we visit their former lives of family and career and the related plans and those things that are so important that they get put off for another day, such as visiting the famed Machu Picchu, inspirations for both Paul and Gabby as things that are so perfect in formation and conception that they have lasted five hundred years.
Through Paul, Smith takes us through, at times painfully, the realities of these sudden and shocking compromises, from the indignities of engrossing boredom to passing solids to miss-timed erections. She also focuses on an all too common human response of making personal what is the tragedy of another that can manifest itself as selfishness or present as such to cloak innate fear.
While not wanting to promote a night of intense drama as the ultimate theatrical experience, nonetheless director Geordie Brookman’s trade mark infusion of farce into the excesses of many of his characters seems out of place here. The dash for laughs seems to come at the expense of the dissemination of the more insightful emotions evoked in the second half by the players as they seek some rationalisation and future amongst the ruin. In particular, both Gabby’s voyage of discovery and Paul’s reflective contemplations seem rushed and / or confused in the last scenes and the contrast with the aforementioned selfishness lost amidst the humour.
Having said that Darren Gilshenan is excellent as Paul managing his various roles, emotions and unhappinesses with aplomb. Lisa McCune is a delight and Luke Joslin’s Marty a strong column of sanity throughout. Jonathon Oxlade’s set skilfully combines the twin settings of hospital ward and external places, aided by Nigel Levings perceptive lighting.
This is subject matter and well researched, personal writing that deserved a more candid approach.
Kryztoff Rating 3.5K