There is no doubt that Marius von Mayenburg’s new play touches on a sensitive contemporary nerve. It is about extremism and tolerance, religious fanaticism and political correctness. It is about how far fundamentalism can be accepted, ignored or written off as youthful angst. Mayenburg has penned the conversation that society is eager to dodge.
This is a production that does not dodge. Daniel O’Keefe, who plays teenage protagonist and Christian fundamentalist Benjamin, seems to burst from the set. Exploding with fiery scripture, strutting naked and forcibly upending the wooden palettes making up the floor, he pitches his performance at uncontrollable. His war on depravity is fierce, beginning by targeting bikini-clad classmates and escalating to anti-Semitic plots of violence against his Biology teacher (Natalie Radmall-Quirke).
This vision of youthful extremism is pervaded by burgeoning sexuality, misogyny and growing-pains rage at powerlessness. Turning a blind eye is shown to fuel the flames, as the school’s ‘hands-off’ attitude merely allows bullying, sexism and to burn with zeal. A supposedly ‘liberal’ laissez faire attitude is revealed as dangerously close to the evil of inaction. The oft repeated thought, famously espoused by Albert Einstein, that “the world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything” is the ideological core of the play.
At times the fervency misses the mark, as some performances strike as falsely over-ardent. However, the boldness with which it deals with these ideas is commendable, and the absurdist closing tableaux reverberates with energy. A passive reaction is impossible.
(originally for The Skinny)