April's Fool Review
As parents we expect our children to do foolish things. Some mistakes can’t be circumnavigated by wise advice, they just need to be made. All we can hope is that lessons are learnt swiftly, and consequences contained.
David Terauds had no such luck. In the wake of his son, Kristjan’s death from complications of illicit drug use in 2009, he painstakingly mapped the impact on family, friends and community in a series of interviews, converted to the stage by playwright, David Burton. The result is an excruciatingly painful, raw, honest look at the ripple effect of the worst possible outcome of a blasé decision made by millions on a regular basis.
It’s a grave choice of material, moulded expertly in the hands of HaBYT veteran directors Peter Cottrell and Jandyra Macial and brought to life by a dozen young performers worth their weight in crack cocaine. The ensemble cast is centred around a protagonist conspicuous by his absence. The corporeal form of Kristjan Terauds is indicated only by the ominously unoccupied hospital bed, eerily wheeled around as a prop. Anchoring the four foundational pillars of his memory are his immediate family - mother, father, sister, brother - four static characters who interact with each other to co-create an image of their ailing and failing loved one and the consequential fracturing of their fragile family unit. The supporting cast are filled in by degrees, with young actors taking on the clothing, speech and mannerisms of a host of family, friends and medics, flitting in and out of various characters with delicate ease.
The authenticity of the piece is tangible. These are the real words, real thoughts, real feelings of real people. There is no denying them. Nowhere to run and hide. Even as family and friends suffer the days-long vigil at the bedside of the dying child, so do we suffer alongside. It is ambitious fodder for ones so young, a mammoth task to which they are equal. There is great emotion - passion, rage, despair, sorrow. Where there is humour the humour is bittersweet, inappropriate, seeped in guilt. By the halfway mark I am shamefully internally begging for the inevitable death because I cannot stand the waiting. Cannot stand the pain. I waited just an hour and a half compared to the five painful days the play catalogues.
The work is brought to life by a number of poignant theatrical devices - the slow roll of what looks to be a bingo cage, dispensing a fluttering of autumn leaves, projections of party scenes, macabrely disjointed disco lights, a dynamic tableau of rising and falling bed sheets. Add to this the signature magical touch of Macial’s choreography. Grotesquely slow motion expressions of agony and ecstasy on the dance floor. Twists and lifts, arms and legs flailing or caressing the air, the pathos of the piece writ large in delicate, fluid, emotion-laden motion. The execution is tight, professional, scrubbed clean of the tentative uncertainty we have come to associate with youth and youth theatre.
There is a refreshing balance to the work. Each character is at once an island, locked in their own grief, disbelief, shame and pain; and connected, their support networks explored, their attitudes and beliefs juxtaposed. This is not a work that judges, though it has a clear and present message. Instead, characters are allowed to quite literally speak for themselves, the conclusions drawn in the minds of the audience.
As powerful as the work is, I can’t help but wonder about its utility, for these actors, for this audience, at this time in history. As real and poignant the story, as accomplished and heartfelt the execution, this is in essence a ‘scare ‘em straight’ tale. A cautionary fable told in living colour with no holds barred. But is more fear, more trepidation, what the youth of today, and their parents, really need? Yes, this play raises an important issue. Yes, drug abuse is a scourge. But the real epidemic that is infecting our youth is one of anxiety. Statistically, young people of today are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than their parents' generation. Last year 37 people died from drug related injuries. 654 died from suicide. Is increasing the sum of fear in the world what our young people really need?