I am a writer living in Melbourne who loves to devour culture and the arts. Visit me at www.pumptheatre.com.au
When love is all you need and friendship is beyond belief
When do you prioritise a friendship over personal beliefs?
How do you know when your ideals are incompatible with your identity and behaviour?
These are some of the questions Quite Drunk, Very Jesus-Y raises at the 2019 Melbourne Fringe Festival, on now until 22 September. Book you tickets here.
Jessica Stanley and Vivian Nguyen - photo by Jack Nixon-Gunn
Quite Drunk, Very Jesus-Y is the latest play from Canberra based playwright Grace De Morgan. As the title suggests, the action takes place at Christmas, at a country property owned by Beth's (Jessica Stanley) grandmother with her friends Agnes (Siobhan Connors), Justin (Gideon Wilonja) and Candace (Vivian Nguyen). Under the spell of alcohol, the 'friends' forget their Christian fundamentalist veneers, and succumb to the truth behind the mask of belief.
'Agnes' played by Siobhan Connors - photo by Jack Dixon-Gunn
The central protagonist 'Agnes' is a 29 year old virgin and afraid she may never marry or even be touched by a man. Beth her best friend is consumed by her belief in Jesus and takes the moral high ground, and enjoys the status of the 'good white Christian woman'. She can burst into spontaneous prayer on request and could possibly lead a cult. Jessica Stanley's portrayal of Beth never disappoints.
Agnes is an endearing character, beautifully played by Siobhan Connors and presents a current live debate about single women and their role in Australia today. Statistically, there are more women in Australia than men, and a significant proportion who will never marry or have children. It's a complex issue, and religious beliefs make it more complicated by setting moral codes and behaviours which are not in step with contemporary lifestyles – especially virginity and sexual relationships outside of marriage.
Justin (Gideon Wilonja) is also a Christian friend, gay and 'not quite out'. Candace (Vivian Nguyen) is married for six years, without child, is desperate to bear fruit, and may resort to IVF, despite the ethical conflict with her religion. The 'four' get excessively drunk and as the night draws on, each friends deep and dark secret fears are revealed. Behaviour declines, inhibitions are released and 'sin' is committed.
Justin represents the 'plebiscite' debate, whether LGBTIQA friends have the same human rights as heterosexuals – especially the right to get married and have children. He also shows how 'uncomfortable' it is to be different, and the compromises individuals often make to fit in to a group or family like 'church'. Yet, the irony is that Justin is the most approachable friend in the group who everyone turns to discuss and confide in about their ethical conflicts – whether IVF and sexual relationships.
Justin, Candace & Agnes - photo by Jack Dixon-Gunn
The character of Simon (Pat Moonie), Beth's brother is the catalyst for change during this rural 'retreat'. He arrives back at the ranch unexpectedly to discover the 'friends' are in a dishevelled state and represents a different moral code to the rest. Simon is a person who holds religion at arm's length and certainly has little self-awareness of how his behaviour and choices impact others. He is the typical playboy, who likes to have fun and no responsibility – but is happy to tell others they are wrong. Simon plays both 'devil' and 'saviour' in this play, which keeps the story interesting, buy distressing at the same time.
Wild friends dancing - photo by Jack Dixon-Gunn
Despite the serious issues in the play, Quite Drunk, Very Jesus-Y is written as a dark comedy – and for the most part it works.
Directed by Peter Blackburn with Assistant Director Jessica Martin, the show is 90 minutes, and the pace and change of action keeps us moving with the stories of the individual characters.
There are some great 'light' moments – like the wild alcohol-induced dancing which complements the 'darker' scenes which address self-harm and suicide, which are challenging to portray live on stage.
The production is a collaboration of two 'forces of nature' - independent theatre companies Key Conspirators and North of Eight harnessing a wide breadth of acting and production talent very evident in Quite Drunk, Very Jesus-Y. Also, of note is the set design by Helen Rofe who has created a physical backdrop of the country house with flexible partitions to allow scene changes with discreet stage management (Mazz Ryan). This is especially evident where Agnes drives a car - truly a stroke of innovative stage design.
A word of warning, although this is a dark comedy, there are moments of serious trauma, which are not fully developed nor explored. Quite Drunk Very Jesus-Y presents a swag of moral issues, and this presents a challenge of how to give time to explore each issue sensitively.
The cast of Quite Drunk, Very Jesus-Y
If you get frustrated with religious hypocrisy, you will definitely enjoy this show, as it allows space for all of us to examine, if we really are, who we claim to be.