Brother Daniel is captured looking away from us with a slight smile at some unseen event. His face is young, handsome, charismatic and his yellow scarf of freedom stands out against his khakis. The poster for BROTHER DANIEL introduces the man with whom we will spend the next two hours. But this is not the man we meet.
When this new work opens, the titular character is a broken thing. The iconographic photo of him as a revolutionary leader is there onstage, above the bible. It is at the bedside in the small hotel when a visitor is shown to her room but the real man is collapsed on the floor of the stark, bloody cell. He has been there since the audience began filtering into the small space.
His compadre is Tony, a rapist and self-described madman who shares his cell and his chess board. Tony is awaiting a trial, the outcome of which is inevitable. Constant torture and his own demons have made Daniel too weak to eat and Tony is only too happy to gobble up the two portions. But Tony loves this wreck of a man and does what he can to help him survive. There are student uprisings in the streets and Daniel stands accused of aiding a dissenter. The status quo, his old comrades, want him to come out for them, against the youths. The visitor it turns out is Lucinda, a lawyer. She is driven, zealous and has come here determined to save Daniel whether he wants it or not. Tony and Lucinda will each contribute to a gambit which might turn white into black.
The TAP gallery is never going to be a showcase for lighting, sound or set. Performers here need to rise above their venue and create their own theatre. In this case they have a solid script in support and the narrative successfully frames the performances.
It is a reasonable assumption that this piece would rise or fall on the character of Daniel but Sydney playwright James Balian is too good a craftsman for that. It is Tony who opens the show and the audience’s heart. In a finely crafted performance, Vincent Andriano provides the light and dark of the situation and of his own psyche. In Act One Daniel hardly speaks for himself, we see him through other’s eyes. After interval we get a stronger sense of who he really is now in his own words. Adam Hatzimanolis as Daniel shows considerable technique in being beaten down but still audible and accessible to the viewer. As Lucinda, Mel Dodge, seems too diffident for someone who will risk her career for an ideal or stare down a rapist but perhaps the steel will come after opening night nerves settle. The script also will benefit from a little settling. Some editing of the scene between Daniel and his former brother-in-arms (Errol Henderson) would shorten the slightly overlong second act.
When a hero has had enough where can they run? Is disappearing into the redemption of good works enough or is martyrdom the only answer? When is enough torture enough to make a man good again? This is at the core of this drama and the questions travel out of the theatre with you … past the poster.
A Collaborations Theatre Group production, James Balian’s BROTHER DANIEL is playing at TAP Gallery, Darlinghurst until October 5th.