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Jo Stone, Paolo Castro, Superheroes Jo Stone, Paolo Castro, Superheroes
photo by RODEO
THE CHARACTERS OF STONE/CASTRO’S SUPERHEROES ARE RESIDENTS IN A REST HOME—A KIND OF REHABILITATION FACILITY FOR THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. THE WALLS OF THE FACILITY ARE PAINTED AN INSTITUTIONAL SHADE OF GREEN. THE LIGHTING IS SUPPLIED BY BRIGHT FLUORESCENT STRIPS. THE RESIDENTS ARE SHIELDED FROM THE OUTSIDE BY A SUITE OF VENETIAN BLINDS HUNG AGAINST PLATE GLASS. BY THE SET’S IMPLICATION, THE AUDIENCE IS ALSO ON THE INSIDE. WE ARE RESTING TOO. THROUGH THE WINDOWS LIES THE WORLD BEYOND—AT WAR.

Occasional nationalisms drift through this work like warped memories from another time and place. A male nurse plays air guitar as if protesting Jimi Hendrix’s mind-bending rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But the pride of upright posturing is long dispersed. The residents hang their heads and turn their backs on us. They slouch disconsolately on plastic chairs, and fall short of distracting each other with their paranoid suspicions, their rants of boredom and mistrust. Mail from the world outside is delivered to the home, but the prospect of a missive fails to arouse. At least the parcel is not a bomb. One resident is reading Graeme Alford’s Never Give Up, but he too struggles to retrieve much motivation from the prose. The other residents want toast—to eat. They are adamant about that.

In the midst of their exhaustion, Superman (Paolo Castro) arrives from China, a dress-up super hero flying into the scene on an electric wheelchair. Temporarily energised, two other residents also dress in Superman costumes. But, despite their capers, we somehow know that none of them will save the day. Spiderman makes a cameo appearance, and Wonder Woman’s gestures of transformation are briefly referenced. These superheroes are really just distractions, serving to divert attention from the tedium but failing to relieve the trauma.

Beyond the comforts of the rest home, the war is raging on. The residents sing “God Save Our Queen” with flagging enthusiasm. They aimlessly fold sheets of paper into aeroplanes, and just as lamely send them flying—across the room and outside to a lone soldier in the desert amidst potted palms. Computer game-style animated graphics of armoured tanks and shells exploding are splattered on the back wall, accompanied by earth-rumbling sound effects. Like the residents of the rest home, we watch the violence at a distance from behind the panes of glass.

The residents are mostly men—actors Julian Crotti, Nick Bennet and Hew Parham perform with dancers Lewis Rankin and Nigel Major-Henderson. Only one resident is a woman, played by actor and director Jo Stone. She is pregnant, visibly so. But she doesn’t want to bring her son into this world—at least not while Superman is inside sleeping as the explosions of the war reverberate outside. That this lonely woman, dressed in yellow, already intuitively knows her baby’s gender is a tacit signal of the work’s religiosity.

More explicit on this aspect is the mother’s cradling of the dying soldier, an enactment of the Pietà. No tears of lamentation in this production, but the loss of religion—or rather, the loss of coherence in religious belief—is keenly felt. Stone writes in the program of her doubts and fears: “Our ideals define the landscape of the world our children will inherit, and I fear our ideals are so brutally disconnected from each other that the future landscape seems to me very bleak.”

Another key to the anxieties animated in this work is a speech in which a resident confesses to his shame that his penis is a source of laughter for other men in the showers. It is a speech of protest against the impotence of war: his struggle to assert his masculinity through stand-up tricks amidst the exhaustion of the rest home. In the end, he fails. There is a lot of smoke, but there isn’t any fire. The residents’ commitment to the regime of the rest home is secured with the conformity of an exercise routine.

Superheroes is reflective, contemplative theatre. Its violent prospects are displaced. The work is scripted by Paolo Castro, who in performance also provides an energetic anchor for the ensemble. The meanings of the words resonate on stage with images and actions, but the intensity of their expression isn’t always handled evenly by the cast. Some have worked before with Stone and Castro, and this production suggests the promise of an ensemble practice.


Stone/Castro & Adelaide Festival Centre inSPACE Program, Superheroes, director Jo Stone, writer, dramaturg Paulo Castro, performers Julian Crotti, Nick Bennett, Lewis Rankin, Jo Stone, Paulo Castro, Hew Parham, set design Wendy Todd, lighting Kerry Ireland, video Nic Mollison, sound Sascha Budimski, Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Theatre, July 2-24

RealTime issue #99 Oct-Nov 2010 pg. 42

© Jonathan Bollen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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