March 10, 2006

Double Dealing

Filed under: Archive,Festival

Honk If You Are Jesus
By Peter Goldsworthy and Martin Laud Gray

State Theatre Company
Odeon Theatre

Murray Bramwell

There is something really fascinating about cloning. Not so much Dolly the sheep, after all, she was only one more of the same. But the idea of cloning something extinct – like a Tasmanian tiger. Or something unique, like a famous person…? That is where Peter Goldsworthy’s intriguingly prophetic novel Honk If You Are Jesus comes in. Published in 1992, long before stem cell controversies and the renewed polarities between science and the religious right, Goldsworthy brought the possibility of IVF technologies – many of them pioneered by the late Dr John Kerin here in South Australia – and combined them into a speculative satire that reads like a mix of Aldous Huxley and David Lodge.

Now, in collaboration with director Martin Laud Gray, Peter Goldsworthy has adapted and up-dated Honk for the stage and the result is a resounding success.
Dr Mara Fox is an obstetrician with an IVF specialty and she’s tired of terminations. Making new connections – the old egg and sperm race – that is her thing, and when she is invited to a professorship at Schultz University, a bible college in Queensland with an unusual interest in advanced reproductive science, she bids goodbye to her mother’s entreaties for husband and family and takes her colleague, harvesting wiz, Tad Romanowicz, with her.

For the stage of the Odeon Theatre, Mary Moore has created a set that merges the metallic sheen of the laboratory with the grandeur of a cathedral. Instead of a stained glass window is, what might be, a giant petri dish, surrounded by a tapestry of suspended test tubes. To the sides are two large circular screens displaying various internal fallopian procedures while, in front, stands a double helix pulpit from which the Reverend Hollis Schultz intones his majestic message of salvation and the Second Coming.

Goldsworthy’s text has adapted well for the stage and he and the director have not only strengthened the dramatic essentials of the novel with admirable thrift, they have found room for an impressive amount of the Book of Genesis. And it all makes a rollicking story. Mara meets Bill Scanlon, a high powered American cloning expert, also hired by Hollis Schultz to implement, or shall we say resurrect, a very grand plan. At the same time Mary-Beth Schultz, wife of the ambitious Little Rock preacher, has more particular need of Mara’s clinical expertise.

There are some excellent performances here. Caroline Mignone, on first night overcoming a very visible ankle injury, captures both the insecurity and ambition in Mara Fox, highlighting the strong binaries in the play about science and intervention on the one hand, and biological and divine destiny on the other.

Greg Stone’s Hollis Schultz is a triumph. Stone is one of the best actors in the country and his measured, often hypnotic, performance – along with Michaela Cantwell’s vividly imagined Mary-Beth – gives real dimension to the play’s swirling arguments. Justin Moore is nicely nonchalant as Scanlon, confident in the inevitably of his powers, Cathy Adamek adds spin to Marilyn from PR and while Jonathan Mill’s Tad is a good sport, he is also, we find, a skilled mercenary prepared to follow the laparoscope wherever it might lead.

With Stuart Day’s tube-fizzling soundtrack, Justin McGuinness’s video projections and Nic Mollison’s rigorous lighting, Martin Laud Gray’s production is strong in all departments. Honk If You Are Jesus is a rare thing, a comedy of ideas – and is surely destined to rise again after this present season. Adam Cook and State Theatre can be very pleased. Honk announces strongly as an all South Australian project within the Festival – and also has a certain future on the national stage.

The Adelaide Review, No.287, March 10, 2006. p.16.

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