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Review: A Case for the Existence of God at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre

Review by Naomi Cardwell

A boxlike office cubicle sits surrounded by a moat of black water. Around the stage hang black plastic drapes that would for all the world look like theatre curtains, if not for the eerie reflections the light and water cast. As we take our seats, a computer screen on the desk blinks expectantly, its screensaver endlessly generating animated networks of pipelines, all going nowhere. 

A Case for the Existence of God is the latest work of American playwright Samuel D. Hunter - acclaimed writer of The Whale, developed into the movie for which Brendan Fraser received his 2023 Academy Award for Best Actor. Hunter continues his meditation on the blighted middle American dream in A Case, exploring love’s weed-like propensity to grow in the scarce cracks society leaves to it. 

Two men face one another over the desk – Ryan (Darcy Kent), a several-generations-deep white local; straight, poor and relatively uneducated. Keith (Kevin Hofbauer), a mortgage broker with a vestigial double degree in literature and early music is gay, black, and well-traveled.

Both men live in the grips of fear of losing access to their children.

At 85 minutes’ running time, with no intermission, the two-hander is gripping, restrained, and tightly wound. Scenes shift with Sidney Younger’s elegant lighting changes, as Director Gary Abrahams gradually brings Keith and Ryan around the desk to seat them side-by-side as their unlikely friendship deepens. Like the endless network of knotting pipes on Keith’s screensaver, an impossible web of regulation, paperwork, and annihilating social and economic circumstances trap both men helplessly, tangling them together. 

Ryan is at the mercy of the court to decide his right to custody of his daughter. A powerless cog in the small (and aptly named) town of Twin Falls, he drifts, working at the local yoghurt plant as much as he can stand to do, and blindly hopes his good character will move the bank to grant him a mortgage. Keith, his mortgage broker, is just as helpless, waiting out the clock for the system to either allow him to adopt his beloved foster daughter, or to take her away and return her to distant relatives she’s never met. 

“We share a specific kind of sadness,” Ryan observes simply, and the men’s shared experience is one of a reality defined by extrinsic forces neither can see, control, or mount a decent fight against.

Trappings of the men’s lives are gradually pitched into the water surrounding the stage. The set, by Jeremy Pryles, is a masterpiece of order-become-chaos, with flotsam floating at random around the two men and subsiding into the dark water. A bottle of whiskey. A baby monitor. Ryan’s mortgage application. Keith’s adoption paperwork. Both men’s mobile phones. 

The lighting on the water reflects infinite distorted Keiths and Ryans in the shining plastic drapes behind them - doubles upon doubles of blurry men just like these two, each suffering everyday tragedies in an alienated modern world that makes every man an island.

God makes no appearance in this play. The title, though, sets up his absence to be keenly felt. Time in Keith and Ryan’s world pushes on, with no deus ex machina emerging to cushion the pair’s devastating twin falls. It lurches forward unfairly and unsteadily, rocketing along for real estate developers and dragging for the play’s walking wounded. It’s disappointing to see the script’s measured, poignant final scene compromised by unnecessary sound and lighting effects, but in spite of the distraction, Hofbaur and Kent’s performances are first-class, delivered sweetly and with dignity.

John Lennon claimed that God is a concept by which we measure our pain. Samuel D. Hunter is a writer for our times, who drinks his measure deeply, reflects fearlessly, and writes in search of miracles.

Image Supplied


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