IVF, asylum-seekers, sexual orientation and even squirrels all pose moral and ethical questions in Drew Pautz’s ambiguous new play.
It opens in a hotel somewhere in Africa where a group of religious leaders have gathered to discuss modern moral issues facing the Church, namely its attitude towards homosexuality. Taking little part in this scene is the volunteer Michael, who sits in a corner of the room as a silent observer typing up the transcript of the meeting.
But it is Michael whose story this turns out to be. After a sexual encounter with a porter in his hotel room, Michael returns home to his wife, with both his sexuality and his increasing leanings towards Christianity churning in his confused mind. Can the two sit comfortably together? Pautz poses this question while also throwing in Michael’s Western guilt about the African porter he so flippantly used and then left back at the hotel.
Pautz’s distinct style of writing – using disjointed sentences and frequent interruptions and overlaps in speech – asks for concentration from the audience as some scenes seem as intentionally mixed up as Michael’s mind. Marital strife is thrown into the mix as Michael’s distrustful wife, Shelly, clashes with her husband over her desperation to have a baby and what to do about the squirrels under the eaves. Meanwhile, modern scepticism towards religion is explored as Michael’s work colleagues believe their boss’s dubious embracing of Christianity must signal some sort of mental crisis. That is all before Joseph makes an appearance at Michael’s house, seeking asylum.
Jonathan Cullen lends Michael a cowardly air; he is a man with human flaws who, as one of his colleagues points out, doesn’t know himself very well. How he and Charlotte Randle’s hard, bitter Shelly got together is hard to fathom. Fiston Barek’s Joseph is the thorn in both their sides who refuses to go away.
Matthew Dunster’s production is played out on Anna Fleischle’s wood veneer-panelled set, which transforms from African hotel to English living room – complete with wood-burning stove – to the bowels of a church where Joseph’s very real presence forces both Michael and religious leaders to demonstrate their morality through actions, not words.