The Black Dog takes hold and there is no letting go. That wake-up call is at the heart of the world premiere production of Erasers, which tackles the broader issue of disconnection. The latter is manifest in many ways, the disengagement between males and females, parents and children, blacks and whites, the gay and the straight, the rich and the poor, the East and the West. Effective communication is, of course, the key, but in this digital age, with the world’s population ever swelling, that appears increasingly difficult. With diversity has come more disharmony, dissatisfaction, despair, anger and retribution.
Set in a small American town and written by US playwright Jake Arky and directed by Gabrielle Savrone, Erasers is a powerful story, well told, about entitlement and disaffected youth. The stage is black on three sides, onto which Jordan and Nathan’s parents, played by Erin Shay and Jesse Badger – who are also the narrators – write the characters’ names in white chalk. On opposite walls, they draw a blueprint for and sketch of their opulent home. They are an affluent family. Dad is a workaholic who is away a lot and has trouble connecting with his children – two teenage boys, Jordan (Jayden Popik) and his younger brother, Nathan (Finn Lloyd). Mum, on the other hand, seems to be putty in their hands.
When the play starts, our attention is drawn to railway tracks and a tunnel appearing on a chalkboard behind the two actors that take centre stage – Jayden Popik (mentioned above) as Jordan and Victory Ndukwe as Eddie. Jordan is arrogant – a spoilt brat, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, a big talker who wants to get hold of a gun. He offers his mate Eddie, who has criminal connections, good “weed” to get it. They talk “girls” – Jordan wants to get his brother laid and Eddie admits he has the hots for a tall beauty, who we later learn is a highly stressed, high achiever named Beethoven (Ellen Grimshaw). Jordan urges Eddie to come to his place and they can get it on. The pair certainly don’t count on what is about to happen, because in quick time they will witness a suicide right in front of them, that of fellow student Spooner (Barnaby Pollock), a friend of Jordan’s brother. Train sounds add realism to the scene.
Next, we witness the gay link between Spooner and Nathan and how that was forged, before cutting to Jordan and Eddie partying and smoking loads of pot with Eddie’s cousin, Yolanda (Khema DeSilva) and Beethoven. When Nathan appears, older bro Jordan urges him to stay and Eddie exposes his gay tendencies. But Nathan’s head has, well and truly, been turned and in his mind he has already plotted his next, shocking move – one with all too real and enduring consequences.
Firstly, a few relatively minor gripes – I felt the script overdid the trash talking and interchanges between teens, which could readily have been pared back, tightening the running time of 90 minutes without interval. From a staging perspective, it would have been desirable to have reduced the simulated dope and bong smoking in the confined space that is The Owl and Cat Theatre. But, make no mistake, this is a slice of life reality piece with real impact. It causes you to reflect upon why things happen, why they spiral out of control and to ask what can be done to change the status quo. While the answers aren’t there, the questions need to be asked. The conversation must be had.
I was particularly taken by Jayden Popik’s raging presence as Jordan. He’s an actor who consistently throws himself into his work with gusto and the rewards are there for the audience to see. I was also “sold” on the effectiveness of the parents as narrators that connected the various components of the story and appreciated their “chalking”, which works so very well in the dark space. You walk away quite shell-shocked, which says to me that Arky, Savrone and co. have well and truly succeeded in delivering a dramatic, thought provoking piece of theatre.
Erasers is playing at The Owl and Cat Theatre, 34 Swan Street, Richmond until 17th February.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television