November 09, 2007

Sky Writing



By Caleb Lewis


The Bakehouse

Until  November 17

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

We talk about it raining cats and dogs – and lately we wish it would more. But in Dogfall, an intriguing new work presented at The Bakehouse by TheimaGen, dramatist Caleb Lewis has taken the image to a disturbing other level. In this ambitious, epic play which begins at The Somme and continues to the present post 9/11 geo-political mayhem, Lewis examines the debates, justifications, delusions and tragedies of warfare in the 20th century – and its escalation into the 21st.

Three young men are sitting in a bunker surrounded by stretchers, sandbags, weaponry, and every style of military helmet from the Marines to the Third Reich. Their names are Jack, Will and Alousha and they are waging a hundred years war. In France, in World War I, Will is all derring-do, while Jack, a medic, refuses to bear arms and worries about the rules of engagement. He is the one who sees the first dog fall from the sky. And so it goes. They fight the Turks at Edessa, experience blanket bombing in Guernica and London, and nationalist wars in Nanking and Northern Ireland.

At Treblinka, Jack is the Good German, obedient and making death more “humane” .He even recruits Alousha, now Jewish, to help cremate the dead to protect him from his own liquidation. At Stalingrad, the dogs are whimpering in the winter night, in Japan, just before the Bomb, it rains antelopes and deer. In Korea the men learn to use landmines, in Vietnam and Phnom Penh in Year Zero they wear dogtags. In Israel, the bunker is divided and Alousha is the Palestinian. In Bosnia, he is the Moslem. Rwanda is all static and white noise and in New York on 9/11, it is a man who’s falling. Someone asks – “when the first dog fell, who did we kill that there was no more room in heaven, that we ruined this earth and brought down the sky ?”

With strong resourceful performances from Brendan Rock (Will) Joseph Del Re (Jack) and Martin Hissey (Alousha), director Justin McGuinness has given Caleb Lewis’s imaginative, lyrical and heartfelt script both momentum and nuance. This is a challenge sometimes when the text is over-wrought and the performances – especially in the latter episodes – become shrill also. This is perhaps a matter of modifying and varying the length of some scenes. The play begins brightly and unexpectedly and then develops a predictability just when the current references need to make most impact. Someone like Robert Lepage would have added another hour. Hampered by his own scale, Lewis has sometimes surrendered to haste.

But this play is extraordinary –  with a nightmarish imagery that suggests Ionesco at his most absurdly bleak and Donny Darko at its most cogent. The special FX – lighting by Nic Mollison, brilliant sound by Peter Neilsen and Justin McGuinness’s video images ( in thin strip screens along each side of the concrete bunker) are all first rate. Once again, with spare resources and splendid invention, TheimaGen has shown that the sky’s the limit.

The Adelaide Review, No.329, November 9, 2007, p.27.

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