NEW FROM RED DOOR
The Red Door series is a curator’s imprint at heart – giving license to focus deeply on works that deserve a deeper read or benefit from re-examination. Construction of the Human Heart falls under both these categories – a work of startling theatricality and deserving of multiple new productions. Red Door is not just the script though – our published documents often includes images, interviews, media and other ephemera surrounding the work – as much a part of the ‘text’ as anything in a .pdf. This series was the brain-child of our previous Literary Manager, the brilliant Tom Healey – I’ll let him tell you more about his last Red Door below.
I’m excited to continue this legacy and I hope you enjoy this brilliant play.
Ross Mueller’s Construction of the Human Heart was first performed at Melbourne’s long lost (and deeply mourned) indie venue, The Storeroom in 2005. Mueller wrote it especially for its originating cast, Todd Macdonald (then co Artistic Director of The Storeroom) and Fiona Macleod because he had seen and admired their (considerable) theatrical chemistry in other plays. The production was picked up by Malthouse Theatre (under the Kantor/Armstrong residency) and has since been performed around Australia and internationally.
It is a spare, haunting and exquisite work, formally challenging and rivetingly eloquent in its exploration of grief, loss and companionship. The set up is both disarming and utterly simple: a bare stage, a couple of chairs, a couple of actors ‘reading’ a script. The impression from the page (and indeed in that original production) is that we are witnessing a staged reading. As the night progresses, it becomes increasingly evident that the experience for the audience is going to be far more complex.
Anyone who has ever been to a staged reading will be familiar with the liminal aspect they engender. In a great reading, the scripts seem to recede, you can imagine complex designs, evocative lighting and sound and the actors seem to disappear into the roles they are reading. Mueller uses this conceit to enormous effect in this text. He strips everything away – stage directions are read by the two actors (and the occasional and increasingly theatrical voice over) and two stories start to emerge. One is a play being written by ‘Her’ (which both are reading aloud), and the other is the increasingly strained rending apart of the two characters as they revisit the death of ‘Her’ mother and their son, Tom.
This is an artful collision between life and art and Mueller uses this collision to ask searching and painful questions which intersect with each other across the two realities being played. Can one ever really recover from the loss of a child? Can the parents ever forgive each other? Can art sustain or interpret the genuine rawness of grief, or is it only a faint echo? When we watch actors on stage undergoing such terrible pain, is anything we are seeing real? Where is the gap between reality and artifice?
In a strange way, each of the stories act as an alienating effect (in the Brechtian sense of the word) on the other. They don’t exactly cast doubt on the other, but each creates a rich relief against the other, which allows us out there in the dark to really experience and process the enormous questions it raises. It’s so hard to describe, but it reminds me somewhat of DNA strands twisted around themselves, where the life they create exists between them, rather than in their individual realities.
In this way, Mueller also creates an analogue for the central relationship between his characters. They are so intertwined, so intimately connected that once they do eventually separate (spoiler alert!) the effect is of a kind of deadening emptiness. Bereft is the best word I can think of. This is a perfect marriage of form and content where the deepest inner structure of the wiring mirrors the experience of the characters we are watching. The play itself disintegrates in tandem with the characters we are watching.
Ross Mueller is an uber wordsmith. His control of language and rhythm is masterly and his understanding of the inner language of theatre is sophisticated and wreaks a powerful effect on his audience. On paper, this could be a clever and maybe even ho-hum trick. The conceit of artists talking about art and the device of playwrights writing the play as it unfolds are easily recognized tropes, but in Mueller’s sure hands they are transfigured into a poetic and elegant jewel.
Literary Manager (2010 to 2018)
LATEST RELEASE: CONSTRUCTION OF THE HUMAN HEART
CONSTRUCTION OF THE HUMAN HEART: A couple, Him and Her, are haunted by two deaths, the death of her mother and the death of the couple's son, Tom. They are also both playwrights, reading from scripts of a play they are writing. The playscript keeps bringing their son Tom to life. He becomes a presence ironically more alive than his parents who are struggling desperately to understand and control their grief.
MORE FROM RED DOOR