Theatre Review: Skinned Knee Production's Ragnarok is sleaze over substance

Skinned Knee Production's Ragnarok was a drink drowning in mixers, but not enough alcohol.

Whatever potency the show may have had was tempered by a heady drench of cocktails, drugs and sex, and lost under the lurid lights of the club.

In a fusion of Nordic apocalyptic tale and modern day soap opera, playwright Andrew Sutherland brings together a trio of gay men in the seedy gay and lesbian club Asgard.

Dan (Tan Shou Chen), a journalist who dreams of love and romance, is enamoured with Alan (Mitchell Fang), a self-possessed, cocksure university student who just wants to sleep around and have fun.

The HIV-positive Lachlan (Bright Ong as the trickster Loki figure of Nordic mythology), incites Alan to commit suicide by sexually assaulting him and playing on his hidden insecurities, and then drugs and rapes Dan, infecting him with the disease.

This overwrought plot is overseen by two Icicles, an ever-present, ever-campy Greek chorus swaddled in silvery chains and capped with platinum blonde wigs.

The trouble with the story is that the characters are barely more than paper-thin caricatures of gay stereotypes. There is little humanity beyond Alan's defining promiscuity, and the only time his insecurities are exposed is for a brief flash after he dies.

Loki may be a mischief-causing prankster in myth, but as an actual character, Lachlan is incomprehensible in his callousness and wanton malice.

Setting a modern-day tale against the epic saga of Ragnarok is also an odd fit.

Several times, a precious moment such as a kiss was interrupted by a cut scene, where the character would disengage from the action and deliver a monologue through the eyes of their mythological counterpart.

The script would have fared much better standing alone, and delivered without the extra allegorical baggage. After all, Sutherland, a recent acting graduate of Lasalle College of the Arts, does have plenty of good questions to ask.

It is clear that he has a firm grasp on the issues which affect the gay community, but that clarity was lost in a muddle of sleaze and spectacle.

Issues which the script grazed past included coping with HIV, attitudes towards promiscuity, parental and societal acceptance, unity in the gay community, whether homosexuality is genetic and the possibility of raising a child.

But all these meaty possibilities were handled only superficially, maybe tossed out as an offhand remark, and then gone with the wind.

Despite the play clocking in at a reasonably substantial one hour and 45 minutes, more time was spent on developing the overly-dramatic plot and drawing tenuous links between this world and a mythological one than actually broaching any of these topics head on.

Even so, there were several heart-wrenching moments in the play, such as when Thora (Rosemary McGowan), a lesbian counsellor of HIV-positive patients, grieves over the death of Alan and Dan's infection.

"This is a curse on the community. This is an aberration of everything we've dreamed of," she rails. Her sense of injustice, her rage, keeps her fighting on despite seeing the people around her fall apart.

In another hallucinatory, dreamlike segment, Dan reaches out to his unborn daughter. "I was always meant to be a father", he tells her. "I'm so proud to have you as my dad," she responds. When he wakes up and crashes back to reality, the look on his face is gutting.

Unfortunately, such moments are few and far between.

In the director's note, Aole T. Miller writes that he wanted the audience to experience the "institutionalised vulgarity" of gay spaces, where love is elusive and sex is hollow.

Unfortunately, that was all this production was - interesting enough for a night, but ultimately a superficial experience.

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Where: The Substation Theatre

When: April 16 and 17, 8pm

Admission: $35 from