Injustice – it comes as a package

By Samantha Jones
Malthouse Theatre 2015 - I Am a Miracle - Pia Johnson (10)

I Am A Miracle | Malthouse Theatre

It is hard not to notice how many injustices there are in the world. There is an endless stream of protests, petitions, art, tweets and posts informing and imploring intervention. Then there is I Am a Miracle — a play which presents something much more complex.

Treating injustice as a whole concept, the play questions humanity, what it is to be human, law, and its role in justice. It proposes the idea that if we revert to the beginning, history could be changed. We could start again. But we can’t change history, and that is what makes this play so confronting.

Such a large discussion stems from the last words of Marvin Wilson, a mentally disabled man executed in Texas in 2012: “I am a miracle”. Challenged by these words and by Wilson’s case, playwright Declan Greene wrote a triptych response examining injustice and what that means.

“Questions around who is considered human and inhuman, whom the law protects and how that differs from justice, and most interestingly, the difference between the legislative law and universal human morality, are raised.”

The three stories ­— one an address to Wilson as his execution approaches, one of an 18th century Dutch soldier sent on a suicide mission, and one of an abusive domestic relationship — invites the audience to think about injustice from alternative views across various times of existence. It doesn’t make sense entirely how the stories fit together, other than to constitute a disjointed analysis intended to move the audience. For the most part, it works.

Through Melita Jurisic’s exceptionally delivered remarkable long monologues as the young Dutch soldier, hard-hitting and uncomfortable questions around injustice are raised.

Questions around who is considered human and inhuman, whom the law protects and how that differs from justice, and most interestingly, the difference between the legislative law and universal human morality, are raised.

It is gut wrenching, while at the same time poetically beautiful. It is also where the dynamics of Matthew Lutton, Malthouse Theatre’s newly appointed Artistic Director, shine through in the set design and stage use. Lutton uses the curtain at the end of the scene to engulf Jurisic and the set, closing in on the audience and adding to the feeling of powerlessness. Mention should also go to experimental composer David Chisholm for his evocative score.

The final scene, with brilliant force and resolution, ties all the elements of the play together by way of feeling — it is difficult to put into words. Bert LaBonté, who plays Wilson, addresses the audience with a blistering monologue. He argues that Wilson is not a miracle, that he is just a man, and that there have been many before him and many more to come.

Echoing from the stage flanks is the chronological recounting of countries where large-scale human rights violations have occurred, escalating further through our current collective understanding of life, through religions and science, back to the beginning — back to the sun.

A row of lights illuminate the curtain, which slowly drags open to reveal each blinding golden light as if it is truth and existence; as if death doesn’t extinguish humanity. Or perhaps it is just simply Wilson going towards the light as he passes out of this world. Either way, it is theatrical brilliance.

I cannot help but see the connection between I Am A Miracle and injustices occurring in Australia today. Specifically, but not limited to, our treatment of asylum seekers and indigenous Australians.

These current examples of power imbalances and loss of humanity will continue to play out in some form or another, against the vulnerable, unless a huge shift in human nature occurs — a miracle. But as is realised through Greene’s ambitiously philosophical script and Lutton’s breathtaking direction, a miracle won’t change the past, and we can’t take it back.

There is nothing miraculous about violating human rights, and I Am a Miracle reminds us this with a powerful unforgettable production. An experience not to be missed.

Caption: Bert LaBonte in I Am A Miracle. Photographer: Pia Johnson.

I Am a Miracle is at the Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse Melbourne until August 9.

 

 

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