Review by Alberto Vasquez Sanchez
You may remember, from 2010 the case of Tyler Clementi, a gay college student who was outed when a video of him and his partner was uploaded on the internet. The story resonated deeply with the LGBT community and its supporters worldwide and brought both cyberbullying and the struggles of same-sex attracted youths into the headlines. These issues are long way off from being resolved and though it may be difficult to talk openly about them, writer-director Damian Overton has joined the conversation with his new play The Bully.
Following the Mitchell family — Cohen (the prodigal son), Stevie (the sister forced to be the family mediator) and Elise (a mother desperately trying to use her faith to overcome her feelings of guilt) — this stage production looks at the circumstances surrounding and the lasting effects of the suicide of youngest brother Hunter one year earlier. We are thrown into a world where a cult-like church, led by “former” gay man Zye, has warped the minds of its followers in order to express a message of intolerance. Suffice it to say, this play explores some very dark, very heavy and yet very important themes.
It is this openness that’s great about this production; it challenges the silence that exacerbates the situation in the real world. However, as the story develops and we learn more about the characters’ lives and the tragic events, there is a plethora of themes and issues — all of which are significant, but only some of which are explored in detail. By the end there are a couple of plot twists that could have been further developed. Overton may have been a little too ambitious in trying to cover so much ground, at least with the runtime of just less than two hours.
That being said, the narrative has a momentum and drive that captivates the audience. The actors are well cast and deliver solid performances, in particular Chris Farrell who plays Ryder (Hunter’s boyfriend) and Katy Cotter who plays Lily (the best friend). Their struggle — coming to terms with Hunter’s death — is the most sympathetic and emotional. Shane Jury does a good job switching between the seemingly innocent (and almost goofy) Zye in front of the camera and the near-tyrannical Zye behind it. Cameron Hurry and Emily Hingst maintain a realistic and relatable dynamic as brother and sister, while Wendy Spencer’s Elise is a sad portrayal of a religious fanatic and grieving mother. Alex Gavioli may have the toughest role, playing a “ghost boy” haunted by his past and unable to move on, yet he handles it well and expresses the universal feelings of fear and loneliness with authenticity. Megan Peta Hill and Sebastian Angborn give the weakest performances, but only because their relationship feels inconsequential.
The Bully is one of those plays that opens dialogue with its reflective tone and comments on society. Although it felt like it needed more runtime to fully develop most of the themes, it is by no means an ineffective or amateur production. Overton has something important to say and, throughout, the characters and narrative make sure you listen.
THE BULLY runs from until 20 October, 2012 at Metro Arts. www.metroarts.com.au
ALBERTO VASQUEZ SANCHEZ is a writer, high school teacher, cinephile, amteur photographer, music lover and daydreamer. His life, like this blurb, is a work in progress. (He stole that last line, *shhh*.)