God’s Ear gets a thumbs up!

by Reginald

God’s Ear has been moving and confronting audiences in equal measure these past two weeks at the Seymour Centre.

When the play premiered off-Broadway in 2007 the New York Times called it “…an adventurous, arresting new play” and Time Out New York declared God’s Ear “A triumph!”. With this, the play’s Australian premiere, critics here have also been singing its praises. Aussie Theatre said “…this is a beautifully realised and strong production of Jenny Schwartz’s linguistically eclectic play”. The Sydney Morning Herald said “Schwartz’s writing is impressive… and [Jonathan] Wald’s cast make this difficult material really fly”, utimately being summarized as “God wonderful” by FBi Radio. But that’s not the last of it; here’s Lloyd Bradford Syke’s Crikey review below -

God's Ear

REVIEW: God’s Ear | The Reginald, Sydney
November 24, 2011 – 7:11 pm, by Lloyd Bradford Syke

The Fonz should’ve been there. Not Arthur Fonzarelli. No, no. The real one. Benito di Fonzo, the playwright in a pork pie (least I think it’s a pork pie; if not, shows you how much I know about millinery), whose robust, cunning, linguistic gymnastics, as evidenced in The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman AKA Bob Dylan, are almost at one with Jenny Schwartz’ playful, inventive, rhythmic repetitions.

Di Fonzo is, arguably, the more original and contortionistic still, bloody show-off that he is, while Schwartz twists, turns and subverts more slowly, subtly and surreptitiously. But just as di Fonzo’s playfulness would be pointless if it didn’t paint such a vivid speculative picture of the psyche of Dylan, Schwartz’ toying and tooling around would be vacuous if not for the fact she manages to sculpt a grippingly powerful portrait of tragedy.

The tragedy involves the loss of a child and its parents trying to come to terms with a reality they’d clearly prefer not to face. Thick with the cliches we all utter and lazily substitute for real thought and volition with language, including signature subversions — such as “I could make my famous omelette, ‘though I’d rather not break any legs” — nothing I’ve seen points more fiercely to the inadequacies of language, or our inadequacies in apprehending and exploiting it, than the deliberate dissonance JS has contrived between what’s actually happening and the descriptors we deploy to distract and deny it. (Even Edward Albee reckons it’s bonzer, apparently.)

I s’pose the benefit of having an American-born director, in Jonathan Wald is, like producer Jocelyn Brewer, he knows a great American play when he sees one. He also knows how to stage one, beginning with Jo Lewis’ set and costume design. The set is a futuristic swish of curvaceous white, alluding to a clean, unobtainable utopia in which eternal equilibrium prevails; heaven, on Earth, or elsewhere.

It’s a state desperately sought by the grieving, estranged couple grieving for their dear departed, but one whose borders they’ve little chance of crossing. Their minds are full of the clumsy clutter, clatter and constant, nagging chatter of words, empty, dispiriting and inadequate; convenient, nonetheless, as everyday masks for intense, searing pain, helpessness and despair.

Gael Ballantyne is The Toothfairy, a worldly-wise cynic who seems to possess a savvy survival-oriented, if coarsely-cut kind of wisdom. Ballantyne wears the character well. Natasha Beaumont is the mother, Mel, barely clinging to threads of the life she had just a short time ago. Anguish is writ large on her tormented face, a barometer of the terror that churns inside, like a king emotional tide. Julian Garner is the classic Mars to her Venus: sublimating his torrent of tears in an endless business trip; studiously avoiding contact, let alone intimacy; retiring to his inner shed. Both are compelling in communicating this male-female disparity.

Victoria Greiner is their daughter, Lanie, prized, but, try as they might, they can’t seem to tell themselves or her that she’s enough; her presence doesn’t assuage the loss. Kieran Foster transforms himself from a transvestite stewardess to GI Joe (stunningly good makeup by Lewis) as easily as most of us change from pjs to civvies.

Yes, it’s strange, surreal and, believe it or not, a laugh-a-minute. Oddly, it’s this very anachronism that underscores the tragedy, to a veritably Shakespearean or operatic degree, but in a manner that is recognisable; relatable; identifiable. There’s something incredible going on here. Schwartz has thrown away almost all the conventions and mechanics we hold to be implicit in the making of drama, reinventing it to even more potent effect.

God’s Ear plays at The Reginald, Seymour Centre until 3 December. For more information or to book tickets visit www.seymourcentre.com