Recently, I saw Anthony Crowley’s new play, Shadow Passion, at Chapel off Chapel. It is a clash of two disparate, yet contemporary Australian stories: Catherine and Robert Harrow share a life of unsatisfying privilege, troubled by keeping Catherine’s mother alive when she is ready to die, and struggling to maintain the passion to bring a baby into the world when they aborted their first. Ali Hadji is an Iraqi refugee who develops a friendship with Catherine’s mother, Magaret. His chances of a permanent visa depend on Robert’s role within the Immigration Department.
It would be remiss of me, considering the previous post, not to note that Shadow Passion brings the issue of immigration to what otherwise might have been a common domestic drama. However, I do not want to write as if this is an issue-based play. That would undermine Crowley’s subtle writing and direction, and the performances given. But the tension of the play derives from the compassion, or lack thereof, of these characters, and difference between moral obligation and choice. It is easy to have moral certitude when the victim is without a face, a history, a common humanity. Far more difficult when you have to make a decision to help the victim who sits at your dinner table. That said, Ali is not without prejudices of his own, but is only ever equally understood by the biting obervation and tenderness of Magaret.
The play is interspersed with surreal vignettes: Catherine’s tap-dances out her naivety upon finding out she’s pregnant, while Robert performs some sado-masochistic ritual with a meat-cleaver. But by far the most pertinent is the interplay between Ali and the puppet that represents his son.
For its stylistic flourishes it is still the final scenes, heavy with moral consequence, staged in a downlit apartment and hospital room, that give the play its immediacy. If the play were handled less successfully moments such as these might fall face first into political and emotional bathos. Thankfully, it does not.
At Chapel off Chapel until 22nd of September.