In Waiting – Liviu Monsted confidently tackles the big questions. (Theatre Review)

In Waiting

Mon Sans Productions and Blood Moon Theatre

At the time of publishing this review, the production has finsihed. Find out about future dates here.

In Liviu Monsted’s In Waiting, the concept of what it is to be human is clarified and defined by death, but for Liviu Monsted this can’t be seen as the closing off of opportunity. Although his protagonists are dead this writer plays with the idea that death is a stepping stone and opportunities for a discovery of a ‘self’ inside us is possible after we have moved into the phase of existence. There is no attempt at defining what this next life might be in essence or on behalf of. Rather the writer chooses to follow on from Sartre’s cue in No Exit to reveal a kind of half way space where the dead go to self-determine. This interesting concept then sees the deceased entering into therapy and an opportunity to reflect on their life before they move on to the next ‘whatever.’

Inside these setting parameters, we are introduced to Estelle Avery (Katie Regan) a young woman who finds herself suddenly in an afterlife of sorts, surrounded by others who have died in violent events. An analysis of her life ensues mostly determined by how she interacts with those in the room. As she contemplates her life, strong existential themes come through in her process. As an individual, Estelle knows she has been required to make decisions, choose and act. Estelle, however, and some of those around her, are burdened by a reasoning that tells them they can do one thing as well as another, and therefore to not act is as powerful as to act. Reflection is simply an equilibrium of possibilities and one cannot act on such a basis. These characters are then caught in the incongruity between action and reflection and this results in an act that is absurd to one’s own reason. Inside this strange between world, reason comes to grief in absurdity. Recourse must be had to something other than rational knowledge and something other than reason a means to attaining it.

Enter Ignus (Alison Benstead) a therapist to those in this afterlife. Ignus uses analysis and a point of view that really ask basic questions about a human’s search for what it is to be human. However, as much as Ignus believes (Heidegger like) that beings must contemplate what it is to be a being, she understands that in order to investigate the meaning of being, the push cannot be arbitrary, it can only be asked and answered by one who is a being. IN the case of In Waiting, only the being themselves can provide their own answer. Thereover, the only true definition of being becomes the one who looks at themselves. Just as Heidegger would call this creature man, or Dasein, for Ignus what lies at the basis of this self-discovery is essence which lies in existence. The eclectic collection of those in the room in In Waiting review their existence not for retribution or salvation, but to search out their essence as revealed through their existence. Therefore, our answer to our ontological question must come from a Being that reveals itself to itself and our dead protagonists are able to use death to accomplish this. In this sense, it is not until this strange death that humans become ontological through to their inner core. Only by dying, are we able to properly understand who we were being when alive.

It is inside here that writer director Liviu Monsted makes a departure from the Heideggerian path and leans more toward Sartre. In Waiting works more toward a determination of being. While the writer here can’t quite resist the lure of analysis, the analogous nature of the narrative goes a long way to providing Being as phenomenon, in that the afterlife becomes the appearance that reveals being. Where Liviu Monsted departs from Sartre is his reach for analysis. Being does not reveal anything inside itself, it simple reveals itself when it is made a phenomenon by death. For Liviu Monsted, moving a Freudian analysis relieves the philosophical tension. Where a play like No Exit explores the thing revealing itself, In Waiting uses the talking cure to analyse the thing in itself. This then ties In Waiting to the present and moves it away from the thing in itself. In Waiting departs from its meditation on Being and involves itself in a kind of healing. A small problem for In Waiting is this process of healing involves the play in the notion of a cathartic afterlife, which further serves Liviu Monsted’s overall intention of seeing ‘The After Life’ as a transitional space that does not have to be co opted by any spiritual practice or belief. While this detracts from the philosophy of the nature and phenomenology of Being, it does play into the writers’ idea that philosophy and psychoanalysis have the ability to construct a valuable notion of an afterlife without a need for Belief or spiritual dimension.

In Waiting is a nice piece of writing by Liviu Monsted, a Sydney based writer interested in death, morality, regret and identity. Australia would do well to nurture and encourage a writer engaged with these subjects, particularly one so close to an intersection between the Continental philosophical perspective and our own national identities fraught relationship with our European history. Liviu Monsted directs his company with a firm hand, pulling great performances from each cast member, particularly his three leads, Katie Regan, Alison Benstead and Dean Nash. The text is wordy (though quite accomplished at times) and the actors are impressive in the way they take this in their stride. The actors handle the pace well and a play that needs time to develop its ideas is given proper space to do so with without the usual problems associated with length.

In Waiting is a strong piece of writing that was well executed by the writer/director and his cast. There is room on the Sydney stages for this style of writing coming from a local writer, so that we don’t have to lean on classics heavily. Hopefully the group at Mon Sans Productions will give us just that in the future.