The Gods In Post-Nuclear New Zealand
23/07/2007 - 28/07/2007
written, directed and performed by Paul Stephanus
Japanese translation, co-direction & sound operation by Nana Hirata
Haka translated by Petera
Closing music by Tristram Stewart
As the title implies the show takes place after a nuclear war that effects New Zealand along with the rest of the world.
The Gods of earth scatter around the globe and find new resting places, and many end up in New Zealand. An old man who has been living in a bunker in Wellington tells the story of a boy (Arthur) who journeys from Dunedin, up the South Island, and ultimately into Wellington.
Along the way he meets a number of deities and mortals including a Texan God of War, the British God of Civilization, the personified mountain Aoraki, The Māori God of the Forest, a scummy Russian, and the Japanese God of Rebirth.
Paul Stephanus is an American who has just recently graduated from the University of Otago in Theatre and English. He is new to Wellington but has been in New Zealand for four years.
Paul started working on this show at the beginning of 2007 in Dunedin. He wanted to create a piece that could work in both pubs/clubs and theatres. He has written and directed a number of pieces during his time at University and afterwards, but this is the first solo show. He wanted to take things back to basics and have a piece that he could travel around with.
The play is very intense, but also quite comedic in places. It takes a look at modern society as a whole, and (in an abstract way) New Zealand’s place in that whole.
23 to 28 July 2007
Theatre , Solo ,
Warning on horrors to come
Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 25th Jul 2007
A corner of a subterranean bar in the middle of Cuba Mall is a strange but not inappropriate venue to see an off-beat fifty-minute one-man show about a post-nuclear New Zealand over which a black cloud floats like "a fluid angry muscle", spreading death and destruction.
Living in a bunker in Middle City (Wellington) and protecting his meagre possessions is an old shaman story-teller who is looking for Arthur from the Crystal City (Dunedin). But the country is peopled with strange gods such as a snow-covered God of Civilization barely surviving in the Alps who speaks with a British accent, and then there is a ferocious God of War (with a Texan accent) who gobbles up babies.
We also get some comic relief from a marvellously hung-over, exuberant Russian from Vladivostok, but that is all the humour there is. And then there is a Japanese lady hiding behind her sun umbrella (not sure what she was up to) as well as a fierce Aoraki and a God of the Forest.
Like the crinkled old map of the South Island that is repeatedly opened, perused and then thrust back into the shaman’s pocket, The Gods in Post-Nuclear New Zealand is hard to read. Is it a warning of the horrors to come or a poetic meditation on the end of life or a piece of surrealistic performance art or is it just too fond of symbolism rather than the interaction of people which is the essence of theatre?
There are only the characters to cling onto and they don’t seem to connect with each other too readily in any coherent way. However, one’s interest is held during the performance by Paul Stephanus’s dynamic stage presence, his vocal command, his use of accents, his fluid character and costume changes and his amazingly flexible facial expressions.
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Admirable skills could give greater return
Review by John Smythe 24th Jul 2007
In the back corner of a basement bar American Paul Stephanus, graduate in English and Theatre from Otago University, introduces himself to Wellington with his first solo show: The Gods in Post Nuclear New Zealand.
In role, he huddles on his patch, jealously guarding his few possessions: books, a bowl, stones, unlabelled cans, a toilet roll, a bottle of liquid … The music stops. His shock at seeing us marks the start of the show.
This being, with a Gollumesque physicality and Disney cartoon voice, is a survivor of "the exchange". He uses a crumpled map to locate Dunedin as "the crystal city", where all knowledge of what happened after the first "exchange" is hidden in the crystal of which the edifice is built. It his from here, he explains, that Arthur ventures out into the ‘real’ world.
Christchurch, it seems, is presided over by a gross God of War, characterised as a crazed trigger-happy American who slaughters randomly and eats babies. Arthur moves swiftly on to Mount Cook, Aoraki, where a weakened, white-faced God of Civilisation confronts his failure to keep it all in balance.
On Arthur travels via a skin-ripping haka to find the God of the Forest somewhere near Queenstown, where the black cloud has dropped the chosen descendents: mutant beings that fornicate without respect for the flora. Among them Vladimir Chekhov Rasputin, a seriously kooky sybarite. The Forrest God is not amused.
Up the West Coast to Golden Bay where a Japanese parasol and language is gently poetic if obscure. But mention of the Happy Lawyers who live here gets a laugh. "As you step into their newly built homes you step on a corpse and press the air out of it which fills the room with their memories …"
There’s a love of language, word-juggling (hunches/haunches; territory/terroristory) and verbal imagery in the text that reveals the story and its extraordinary characters.
At last Arthur makes it across the sea to Wellington. A flash, a blast … In slo-mo he wondrously evokes a wind-stripped translucent body wracked in the agony of a silent scream …
If the recorded song that follows is designed to give meaning to all of this, it doesn’t because – as with so much over-compressed music these days – the lyrics are unintelligible.
There is no doubt Paul Stephanus can write and perform. Intrinsically charming, he is very at ease in his space, easily able to bridge a stumble or tangled costume change. Thus, over 55 minutes, The Gods in Post Nuclear New Zealand holds our attention … But what are we left with?
Only as I’ve confronted the task of writing about it coherently does the possibility emerge that the play could be a poetic abstraction of personal catharsis that Stephanus experienced in making his journey from academe through a tortured landscape of the mind to a new beginning. Or maybe it’s more broadly allegorical in depicting, and warning us of, a foreseeable future.
Some hint as to its rationale would be appreciated, preferably within the work itself or by way of programme notes (there is no programme at all, so not even the characters get named). If all we get to appreciate is the imagination and performing skills of its creator, that’s a very limited return for his and our investments.
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