The Temple is a raving contemplation on how we cope with sharing ourselves with the world and how the world accepts us. Raving contemplation sounds slightly oxymoronic, but I will stick to this description as this 90-minute piece is hilarious, bombastic and manic but at the same time cleverly ruminates on the heartfelt issues, delivering real pathos at times.
The Temple is part of the Malthouse Season and is co-presented with Pan Pan Theatre from Dublin which was founded in 1993. Pan Pan has created over 40 theatre and performance pieces and has enjoyed wide acclaim appearing in festivals around the world. Its remit being to create original theatre pieces.
It certainly succeeds with The Temple. It is very funny as it coaxes us to look into the proverbial mirror and comment on what we see. The co-creators are Gavin Quinn (the director and also co-artistic director of Pan Pan), Alfin Abella, Ash Flanders, Mish Grigor, Marcus McKenzie (all four performing in the cast) and Nicola Gunn. Also joining the cast on stage is Amsterdam-based performer, Genevieve Guiffre.
Slightly dull yellow stage curtains part slowly to reveal a room with walls of pretty much the same colour. The performers enter one-by-one and the banter begins. The conversations between the five characters cover subjects such as pregnancy, break-ups, bullying, identity crises and given names amongst others. The characters indulge in games such as how much verbal abuse can be dished out to someone before they cave in? Or, how much detail and embellishment can one give their lives before they are called out on their earnest and impressive biographies. We stay in this room for the entire time. The room grows larger, ever so gently and subtly, as the back wall retracts towards upstage and more door entrances on stage left and right appear. The space becoming wide and empty in readiness for the confronting finale that is the last scene.
Not knowing what to expect and refraining from reading the program notes, my thoughts ventured from thinking the characters could have been in a run of the mill staff room, or possibly a therapy group room. Was it AA? Was it drama therapy? Was it a sociological experiment? For a short moment, I even thought they were in a good old-fashioned Laundromat. But the setting does not matter as you enjoy the comedic antics, the incessant jibes and the quirky monologues that make The Temple excellent viewing. It is not until the final scene, which is a mixture of comedy and pathos, do we understand, to a degree, what we have been watching and what the ultimate goal is for all the characters who are unified in this goal.
Ash Flanders’ character is snide, acerbic and catastrophizes at every opportunity. Flanders makes his antics look effortless and he is in command on this stage. His comic experience and his creativity are on full display.
Mish Grigor is magnetic from the get-go. Her trying to appear nonchalant and priding herself that she holds a no-nonsense view of the world provides many amusing lines. She is the tallest on the stage and she parades around almost like a bossy school prefect, reprimanding and holding court.
Marcus McKenzie’s character is probably the most sensitive. Stuck in his ways but able to question himself and be humble inside of this room swirling with chaos. You can decide for yourself why, in one scene, he strips off, revealing his naked body.
Aljin Abella’s character is quick witted and cheeky. Abella creates a multi-layered character who drives much of the theme of the piece – why do we destroy, why do we cause pain?
Genevieve Guiffre masterfully delivers several monologues throughout. Her character is quirky but definite in her way of thinking. She uses her large open eyes to great comic effect and she drifts around the stage helping herself to the concoctions in beakers and measuring flasks that are carefully laid out on a table stage left. She drinks the red, blue liquid with eagerness and mindfulness, all increasing the randomness and quirkiness of this piece.
The ensemble is hilarious. The material is a mish-mash of absurd but robust conversations and ideas. The comic talent work in silos at times and in others are cohesively in tune with each other. Be ready to laugh, be ready to be confronted.
Images: Pia Johnson