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Canberra Today 17°/21° | Monday, December 6, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Brutal yet tender moments of dangerous exposure

“Chiaroscuro”… moments of dangerous exposure. Photo: Sam Kennedy-Hine

Theatre / “Chiaroscuro”, written and directed by David Atfield. At The Courtyard Studio until November 28. Reviewed by JOE WOODWARD.

DAVID Atfield creates a theatrical model through which to examine dialectical relationships between love, art and religion framed within the context of the artist Caravaggio and his model Gregorio.

The subject is brutal and tender; disturbing and somehow affirming of human complexity. It is presented with the precision of scientific investigation while emotionally charged and compelling.

Atfield has demanded much of his actors, Shae Kelly and Mark Salvestro, who provide a sculptured and clearly articulated argument within the stage. Their work evokes an eroticism charged with danger and explosive forebodings. The performances were enhanced by Rose Montgomery as set designer and Gillian Schwab as lighting designer with lighting shades that used tones similar to those in the original paintings.

Perhaps the acting may appear stilted and not overly reactive. However, this seems more likely to be a deliberate choice to enhance the power of gestures and visual design to extract deeper, less sentimental, depths of meaning from the work. The more intimate scenes were still engaging while allowing a sense of distance to examine those explosive moments of personal escape and finding of connection. Those moments of dangerous exposure provided a core theme. The level of revelation each character allowed himself to present to the other was extreme and created for a potentially deadly vulnerability.

Caravaggio’s world of the 16th and 17th century might seem far away; yet its social norms can still be found in today’s society. That same fear of sexual power that drove sexual release into the shadows and deep recesses of the personal and cultural psyche is still evident today. The social flirting with sexual boundaries and power structures informs so much of media discourse and personal identity. The proliferation of extreme forms of pornography while being submerged below apparent social contracts that pretend it doesn’t exist suggests massive, if not a culturally neurotic, denial of whole areas of human reality.

“Chiaroscuro” boldly explores aspects of this dichotomy. Such material treads on cultural eggshells and requires a deft artistic and well-crafted hand to shape it for an audience. We are fortunate in having such work presented in Canberra. The brutality in the descriptions offered by the protagonists shouldn’t cloud the underlying raw truthfulness of their articulated experiences.


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Ian Meikle, editor



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