Brother Daniel – Collaborations theatre take us from hero to zero. (Theatre review)

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Brother Daniel

Collaborations Theatre Group at the Tap Gallery

September 24 to October 5. You can grab your tickets here. 

Images by Mark Banks

It is currently the fashion among those who fancy themselves to be on the higher end of the IQ scale, to contextualise the death of god as the refusal of an irrational spiritualism over a fact-based insistence on lucid explanations for what the senses pick up. It’s the age of the doubting Thomas’ if you will – I’ll believe after my fingers have prodded those holes in the hands thank you, and not before. Empirical evidence over hermeneutics informs the Cartesian learning styles – give me dot points in my power point presentation, clear learning outcomes and let me choose for myself in the cyber world of indiscriminate knowledge dumping and sewage-like overflows of big data. And yet, we are still driven by the temptation to replace God, being unwilling to admit that we needed him in the first place, yet equally as unwilling to let him go. He is replaced by the ideological hero, a status we have placed on mere mortals the likes of Darwin, Gandhi, David Foster Wallace and even such spurious recipients as Christopher Hitchens and Noam Chomsky. In other words, until we refuse to sit, irrationally flattered in our orgiastic agreement, in front of You Tube speeches by these people, we’ve really not accepted the death of god at all, rather replaced him with the human creature whose hands contain those holes we so badly want to poke our fingers through. It’s not the question of personal responsibility despite the “realness” of god we have come to terms with, it is merely a question of fashionable belief. I don’t believe in god, because there is no proof of god, we say in our wisdom. But do we have the courage to refuse to believe in god even if he is real? Surely that is a more powerful question rather than the one of belief, and one that renders the idea of belief as of little consequence. God’s existence is of no importance – is he worth following? That’s the real question.

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These are the important and interesting questions evoked in writer James Balian’s play Brother Daniel, currently in production through Collaborations Theatre Group at The Tap Gallery. Ideology needs a hero, as does political reform, to embody the power of the vision. If that leader thinks it, or “be’s” it first, then we can all do it. (Herein lies the real power of history and the serious problem of a preferential historical narrative. Why are there no female or black Shakespeare’s? Because no one ever published her, wrote about her, criticised her, or made sure their daughters knew about her. Without a hero, there is no chance for the infections of inspiration to take hold, and therefore one of the most powerful actions of mass marginalisation is to ensure no hero ever exists.) Every movement knows they need leadership. What is the relationship between the hero and the man forced to embody the symbols of that particular revolution? J.D. Salinger went into virtual hiding rather than repeatedly confront the sycophantic campers around his letterbox who want him to hear, just one more time, how powerfully Holden Caufield impacted their life, flattery that inevitably leads to a request for just a little more. This is the heroes problem, his source material, be it books, essays, music, art or whatever is finite, whereas the hero themselves  – well surely they can impart jut one more pearl, just one more inspirational quote, just one more revolution? Is that too much to ask? How can it be when so much is at stake?

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It is this relationship to our heroes and the all important moment when all heroes die for us – the moment many philosophers would argue a child becomes an adult – that is under discussion in Brother Daniel, and therefore becomes available for all of us to examine in our own lives. Unless you are inspired to create something standing on the shoulders of those who inspire you, do you have any right to be inspired? Is everything else just a glamorising of an unworthy entity, the endless sucking at the teat of a frail human creature as much at odds with your perception as they are with their failure to live up to their own words. Travis Green directs the character Daniel and Adam Hatzimanolis performs him as just such a spent creature, one made as weary by their successes as by their failures. The inspiration he evokes has become a commodity and competing ideologies wrestle for his magic touch. Hatzimanolis is a tired Daniel, a beaten down by the weight of power Daniel, a man who both lives up to and inevitably fails to embody the spirit of what he has come to represent. Mel Dodge is Lucinda, the young woman made free by Daniel’s revolution, who used her fresh actioned hope to become a lawyer she mistakenly thought he would be grateful for. Her beholden adoration has no value, a puzzle shared by worshipers of all kinds. Dodge is excellent here as the fervent, passionate young sycophant, her intense and unwavering gaze upon her idol chilling as it slowly gives way to confusion and the horrors of the truth of her enemies. But it is not just Lucinda who needs to come to terms with who Daniel is rather than what he represents. Vincent Andriano as Tony, the fellow prisoner and criminal sees Daniel better than his followers, and is as much a protector of the man as he is willing destroyer of the myth. Andriano (who was really fantastic earlier this year as The Monster in Genesians Frankenstein) plays Tony as a wily kind of humanist, far too perceptive for his own good, and too cynical for his own redemption. Another fascinating relationship is the one between Daniel and his former revolutionary mate Jonathan, here played by Errol Henderson. As Daniel has been tortured by the jailer Richard (a very easy-on-the-eye Richard Hilliar, who still manages to be menacing) the sleazy battle of wills between Henderson and the depleted Hatzimanolis is one of the highlights of the show. These central performances are surrounded by Jeannie Gee as a protective and conniving mother, Naomi Livingstone as a struggling and forced to be sneakily resourceful Rhema, and David Attrill with a beautifully subdued, thoughtful performance as a guard.

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Brother Daniel sparks great questions and conversations that are contemporary and relevant, and contributes another great show to the 2014 Sydney theatre calendar.

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