COMICAL CONTEMPLATION OF THE CONCEPT OF ABSOLUTION
Written by Gavin McGibbon
Directed by Danny Mulheron
at Circa Two, Wellington
From 26 Oct 2013 to 23 Nov 2013
Reviewed by Charlotte Simmonds, 27 Oct 2013
Although most opening nights I go to in Wellington do tend, technically, to be world premieres, it is nice to be considering the possibility of a life outside of Wellington for the play, particularly since this is Gavin McGibbon's first script performed at Circa. I feel like Circa has been a bit slow there to pick McGibbon up, and that this has been a long time coming, but then McGibbon doesn't exactly churn out shows at the rate of some of his more prolific colleagues. He takes his time.
And he has a much better sense of plot to show for it and a script that demonstrates the merits of spending hours editing and fine-honing the details. I sincerely hope this script does go on to have a life elsewhere.
Not the Russian Business Network, not advertising spam (I would love to see a play about Vardan Kushnir but maybe that's for someone else to write), not a Nigerian shut up in an internet café after hours pretending to be a blonde Slav, no one using an onion router to avoid detection, the con artists in this play are old school, traditional, trustworthy confidence-winners. They do not deal with massive disembodied, dehumanised data blocks of stolen credit card details sold through the internet's black market for a few dollars, but they meet their victims face to face and play psychology for all its worth, which inevitably turns on itself.
Without wanting to divulge too much of the story, I will simply say again that McGibbon has a wonderful sense for plot as an art and a craft. (One would hope so, since he has just submitted his PhD thesis in scriptwriting.)
Sharply directed by Danny Mulheron with excellent pace, Con is comedic and a little brutal. And how do they do that thing with the briefcase? “Every play should have a magic trick,” comments an audience member.
Paul McLaughlin, Mike Minogue and Acushla-Tara Sutton make up the three principal characters while Jason Whyte fills in the various other partners with his usual talent for appearing surprisingly different from character to character.
Essentially the play revolves around the concept of absolution: whether or not we need it, how we might get it, and whether our anger and bitterness can be released, our guilty consciences assuaged in a post-religious society. Although we no longer believe in God and acknowledge the arbitrariness of justice (conman Earl bewails the justice system as “a joke”) and the relativity of morality, what do we do with our persistent sense of ‘right' and ‘wrong'? Is there any purpose for sympathy and empathy, and is there any such thing as a selfless act? Do we need a Higher Power to be free of alcoholism or are humans enough on their own? Can people actually change?
The story grew from a personal experience with a scammer, with the playwright asking the question of, “What would it take for a con artist to reconsider?” I'm not sure if the question is answered here or not, and without actually finding a con artist and asking him (getting him to tell the truth) it might be hard to come to an answer. The play certainly concludes, but it is inconclusive, and this feels very deliberate.
My sympathies switch from character to character throughout the play and by the end I feel conned so many times that I'm angry at being unable to cheer anyone on, so in a way, even the play itself, for the audience, is a con. Which is probably the point. Surely art is to ask us questions, not to provide the answers.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.
See also reviews by: