A Gaggle of Saints
Colourwheel Productions @ Holden Street Theatres – The Arch
6:30pm, Fri 14 Mar 2014
The second play of Neil LaBute‘s Bash: Latter-Day Plays, A Gaggle of Saints is a real rollercoaster of an experience; a sweet and pure opening turns into horrifically violent homophobia, before returning to the (now tainted) visage of joyful innocence.
It’s a tight fit for the audience, as we’re seated on the stage; the performance space is little more than one of the stage wings. We soon meet the bubbly couple Sue (Chelsea Evans) and John (Eddie Morrison, a Golden Phung regular); they (and their friends) are travelling from their college town to New York for a formal ball. The opening third of the piece has the couple delivering interleaved – but never engaged – monologues, describing the mood of the group travelling to the Big City… there’s a tangible sense of the thrill-of-the-new, of barely-contained excitement for the adventures ahead.
But with hotel room acquired, and the female contingent of the group resting and preparing for the upcoming shindig, the males wander the nearby streets and Central Park; by chance, they encounter a gay couple, and – fuelled by alcohol – the men (led by John) entrap and beat the couple to a pulp in a public bathroom. During the beating, John’s shirt gets blood splashed upon it; in order to maintain an alibi, one of the other men breaks John’s nose, and they concoct a story that John tripped and caused his own injury.
The play ends with the women re-joining the men; the monologues merge at this point, and John presents Sue with a ring he stole from one of the men he beat up. As the lights drop, the couple join together: they’re as cute as can be, The Perfect Couple.
And that feels absolutely vile.
The ability of John to maintain his righteousness, after committing acts of despicable evil… it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. That these people, whose introductions and confessions of Christian ideals imply that they’re as pure as the driven snow, could be so despicably evil… well, it made my blood boil.
And that’s pretty high praise for such a play.
It’s all performed in a tight thirty-odd minutes, with Morrison taking the lion’s share of the heavier text; his ability to convincingly tout religious dogma in one breath, and flout it the next, was chilling. Evans proves to be a gorgeous contrast, with a sweetness and innocence that still manages to beg the question: what evil is she hiding? And despite the relatively separated text that the two characters play, they work wonderfully well together onstage; as macabre as it seems, their comic timing works wonders with the dark contrast of the script; their performances were ably assisted by clever direction and lighting within the tight performance space.
Despite its short length, A Gaggle of Saints was worth every cent of the ticket price (plus the two panicky taxi rides to and from Holden Street); it was an immaculately presented, tautly performed exploration of hypocrisy and the devil within. Love love loved it.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 14, 2014