A spectacular tribute to Hollywood’s highs and lows, Pompeii, L.A. is a new play by exciting wunderkind Declan Greene.
Greene is a young playwright well and truly on the way up, and if the buzz of this latest offering is any indication, his peak is not even a speck on the stratosphere. In Pompeii, L.A. Greene explores something akin to modern day 'lost boys' only these 'boys' live in a far grimmer world than Neverland and do not have Peter Pan as a patron. " I started writing much earlier drafts of Pompeii L.A. nearly five years ago, but when I went to L.A. for the first time in 2005 it really crystallised things for me," Greene explains. "That city is incredible. A genuine dystopia. This ridiculous sun-and-surf, healthy-living, hyper-affluent veneer — but then you walk one street and you're on Skid Row, with thousands of homeless people pushing around shopping trollies filled with all their belongings. And this is the centre of the majority of the Western world's cultural production. A city of living nightmares. It's incredible. "
"My initial inspiration was reading about the suicide of Jonathan Brandis — a child-star who I was obsessed with when I was a kid. His star fell hard after the 90s, and he battled depression and alcoholism, until he hanged himself at the age of 23 when his part was cut from the movie Hart's War. For me this story kind of fed into everything that's been happening in America over the last few years… This huge, demented obsession with fame, fortune, success — rubbing up against the GFC, the debt-ceiling, Hurricane Katrina, the ruins of Detroit, climate change, and the sense that the Western World is slowly crumbling away.
So, basically, the Jonathan Brandis story became the launching pad for this big, sprawling narrative about a nameless ex-child-star burn-out, living in the aftermath of a terrible accident. Over three acts we watch him try to piece together his identity and what happened to him, wandering around in a nightmare version of L.A. which has a volcano set to erupt beneath it. ….Pretty simple, really. "
Like other playwrights Greene uses the frailty of the human condition as a spring board for his inspiration but his is a different take on a familiar theme. "I think I tend to be drawn to stories about the exploitation of vulnerable people — a theme which is pretty major within Pompeii, L.A," Greene says. "But I'm more-than-a-bit of a pessimist, and I feel like writing about that theme is inevitable — it's pretty much the dominant narrative of the times we live in. I've written about film and celebrity before, but I think this play has pretty much got it all out of my system. So I'll have to find something else to write about. Maybe something about a white suburban family who encounter some kind of crisis. That'd be pretty novel."
Most things that are worth pursuing are fraught with challenges and frustrations. This is no different for a playwright whose struggle is not found in getting the work from mind to paper but getting it to production. "Getting it produced was a major struggle," states Greene. " It's a very big, epic, ambitious work, and requires a lot resources to put on…. I'm really lucky that the Malthouse are adventurous enough to put it on. I think a lot of literary managers in Australia imagine the audiences for new writing have to be coddled with linear, cinematic narratives. But I really think people are much more sophisticated than that. I hope that with Pompeii L.A. the audience will enjoy the experience of 'unlocking' the play for themselves."
Greene feels everyone's fascinated by child stars, and what they represent. You know the ones. Used-up, spat-out and on the fast-track to self-destruction. The narrative of their lives has such a pre-determined trajectory. The ascent, the descent, the demise. We know it by heart — from Judy Garland, Michael Jackson, Gary Coleman, River Phoenix…. So now we're watching Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Honey Boo Boo with the same kind of perverse scrutiny — waiting for the moment they self-destruct and, basically, die, in front of us. It's a pretty terrifying strain of our culture, and Greene believes it feeds in to a lot of the more troubling aspects of Western free-market capitalism.
Whatever your take on the subject Pompeii, L.A. will rock your world. Greene's literary green thumb can do no wrong it seems and this work promises to surpass Moth which is really saying something. There isn't just one thing that Greene wants the audience to take away with them. "The play is kind-of a sprawling network of intersecting concepts and textures and vignettes," he says. " Some of them are funny and absurd and wild, some of them are dark and ugly and scary. I hope every person will take a different set of experiences and ideas away from it."
Pompeii, L.A. plays at the Malthouse till December 9