A man stands alone on stage. A heavy, grey beard hugs his face and he squints. Gold binoculars hang round his neck and he wears an open vest, tattered brown cut-offs and shining gold boots. Eerie wails cackle out of the speakers and torrents of rain slap down, drowning the earth outside this man’s cave.
He is Jeremiah, and this is Jeremiah’s Tuesday, a monodrama performed by Steven Kennedy and created by Stefan Mrowinski. Jeremiah’s Tuesday tells the story of Jeremiah, an ex-dictator of a “totalitarian democracy” who has watched his world fall to pieces. Now he rants and raves inside a non-space while rain falls forever outside.
The play is at times disturbing and captivating, often dull and incomprehensible, yet always intriguing. Mrowinski’s dialogue alienates its audience and invites them to think about the meaning, potential irony and dubious sincerity of Jeremiah’s words.
Mrowinski’s script borrows heavily from the legends of the Theatre of the Absurd. Themes of alienation, yearning, desire and loss take centre stage as Jeremiah laments the loss of his democracy, which he calls “she”, before describing their very torrid relationship full of slavery, “fucking” and power struggles.
In his 1960 essay “The Theatre of the Absurd”, Martin Esslin said that absurd theatre might be the “theatre of our times”. It pushed back against the realism of playwrights like Henrik Ibsen, who believed in the evolution and progress of humanity. A precursor to Postmodernism, the theatre of the absurd challenged its audience’s ability to understand what it was seeing. Dialogue was often meaningless, actors alienated the audience (especially in Brecht’s case) and it presented “a world without faith, meaning and genuine freedom of will.”
Emanating out of Europe, a lot of absurdist theatre was politically and socially charged. It professed a deep dissatisfaction with political authority, an abandonment of God and disillusionment with human progress. Coming at the end of World War Two, licked by the flames of such tragedies as Hitler’s reign and the bombing of Hiroshima, the absurd movement made sense. It was a kind of speechless reaction to the terrible things humans were capable of. It seemed no longer fitting to celebrate our progress when we had caused so much pain.
But is it still relevant? Jeremiah’s Tuesday is undoubtedly politically charged and brimming with passion. The apocalyptic, rainy setting suggests some sort of global warming disaster, though the cause of the rain that started “that Tuesday…” is never explained. Jeremiah likens detention centres to concentration camps, compares himself to history’s most infamous leaders and blames humanity for alienating and imprisoning itself. To borrow from that old creative writing adage, it threw a bowl of spaghetti at the wall and let everything stick.
Though it was a valiant effort on Kennedy and Mrowinski’s part, their supercharged attack on totalitarianism swirled around in its own dreamscape and failed to break out. It was specific enough that it took place in some place and time, but too vague to make it clear where that actually was. As a result the totalitarian satire felt dated and irrelevant, much like Jacobs’ and Griffiths’ interpretation of Antigone this August.
Despite the misfires, the play’s performer gives it his all. Kennedy’s performance is eccentric and nervous. He opens his eyes wide, his hands shake and he barks out his lines like an army general losing his marbles. With only a bucket for a prop flood lighting for atmosphere, Kennedy remains captivating as the possibly crazy, maybe just a hallucination Jeremiah, speaking for all of humanity and embodying a character for himself.
A human sounding box, Kennedy slaps his body and stamps a foot for emphasis, displaying some real, old-school talent as a trained actor. Every line is perfectly articulated (if contextually absurd) and he wholly embodies a difficult character, who is with and without individuality.
Jeremiah’s Tuesday is a brave and strange project. It provides a lot of food for thought but it’s difficult to swallow. The thematically rich script is often too far removed from the world, like Jeremiah himself who babbles to an audience about his lost kingdom, his words drowning and disappearing in the falling rain. As a result the play is more like a soapbox lecture than an entertaining performance, but still worth the watch for its energetic performer and attempt to revive absurdist theatre.