Vincent River – Conversation that unites us using language intended to divide us. (Theatre Review)
Throwing Shade theatre company
Factory Theatre, 21 Feb to 5 March.
In Philip Ridley’s Vincent River, two different (and also similar) people get together to learn something from the other. Per Philips Ridley’s writing (and in this case Andrew Langcake’s direction) neither know what they seek when they arrive. Rather they are driven by a compulsion evoked by the death of a mutual person close to both. Davey is compelled to act. He haunts Anita for days, finally processing the will to enter her apartment. Anita is compelled to listen. She allows Davey to slowly enter her world realising what she dreads but needing to hear it regardless. Davey is responding to the compulsion of experience and Anita is responding to the compulsion of language, but the question remains, why are they compelled? How does their field of inquiry and its results carry the desired apodictic character? What knowing do they seek, and how do they know they have found it? Each character thrusts themselves into a painful experience on behalf of a desire for knowledge that seems to equate with a desire for certainty, but is that the case? For Davey, the conversation with Anita that ensues becomes confessional, while for Anita the conversation is informational. But is this a quest for certainty on the part of each character that can never be realised? Is the naming of a truth they seek, knowledge as a matter of conversation and of social practise, rather than an attempt to mirror nature with a measurable truth?
Philip Ridley chooses two characters outside logic as the essence of philosophy; two characters outside of the conversation about what it is to be human; Woman and Homosexual Man. Andrew Langcake further embellishes this with his casting. Susan M Kennedy’s Anita is older than her years after being forced to confront a life at odds with the formal narrative that defines her. Susan Kennedy’s performance here manages to have her grow lighter and younger as the audience gain access to her and experience her working-class wisdom. In contrast, Russell Cronin’s Davey seems to get older as the performance progresses and he delivers the final blows to the questions of certainty each character feels they need. The compulsion to see Davey as a criminal of neglect is high, while we are equally drawn to judge Anita as a smothering mother. Both are defined by a conversation about them, even as that conversation denies itself and changes. Neither can confront themselves or their relationship to Vincent River through the broader conversation. Is it not possible therefore, each seeks the other for this reason? Not because it is a space free of judgement, but because each participant is equally burdened by similar risk?
The connection between Anita and Davey then becomes a kind of psychological anthropology designed to solve a philosophical imperative that can never be resolved. This inevitably results in greater pain for each of them, as if Philip Ridley is telling us that there is no “truth out there.” The character’s assent into unforeseen accidental platitudes on the one hand, and necessary conceptual truths on the other. When we receive the final blow of Davey’s eye-witness account we are confronted with the authority of a first-person report. This is itself a hodgepodge of how things appear to us, the pains from which we suffer, and the thoughts that drift before our minds differ from the authority of experts on, for example, homophobia, mental stress, impaired vision at dusk or in snow storms or even the colour of physical objects. The question remains, how do our peers know which of our assertions to take our word for and which to look for further confirmation of? When our peers are judging us, casting us out and even beating us to death, the question becomes more than a philosophical imperative. The question of judgement and its ensuing violence moves beyond “homophobia” into the realm of language and how we construct our world. Moving back to the question we asked at the start of this inquiry, perhaps Anita and Davey are seeking a physical safety that gives them a chance to use a clumsy hateful language that refuses to legitimise their view to allow them to mourn and remember a mutual love that was beautiful?
Philp Ridley is a complex nuanced writer, but Andrew Langcake is an ambitious director cutting his teeth on difficult philosophical works. Therefore there is plenty to be found in this production of Vincent River. Hate crimes are emerging as a reoccurring theme in theatre in this years Mardi Gras festival period no doubt due to the emergence of the legitimisation of white mainstream hate in the current American political landscape. But Vincent River moves beneath the politics of retribution and reactionary attitudes to the very foundation of language and what it means to have the narrative skewed against you as a matter of logic. There seems to be an emerging antagonism between women and gay men currently, fueled by this legitimised extremism, that Vincent River suggests needs to be removed. All victims of homophobia had mothers, and all mothers are women, and while the narrative is skewed to divide us, perhaps we can find unity in the overwhelming desire to divide and conquer us.
This production is located in the funky container rooms of The Factory Theartre. Bokkie Robertson does a lot with a little in the small space, that contains comfortable chairs, and is air conditioned for comfort. Lighting and sound are evocative and the production becomes disarmingly close. It’s a joy to experience.