Theatre – One Way Mirror
Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point)
Written By: Paul Gilchrist
Directed By: Paul Gilchrist
March 14-24, 2018
A one way mirror is sometimes called a two way mirror, a character from Paul Gilchrist’s play of the same name, informs his girlfriend. The object under discussion, a reciprocal mirror, is a means by which people can be observed without their knowledge, and works only when one side is brightly lit and the observers’ side is in darkness. It is a metaphor for something, but what?
Blood Moon Theatre is extremely small, and the use of the available space highlights the idea that both actors and audience are under observation. The actors perform in an enclosure created by the well-lit audience who sit along either side of the performance space, facing each other and very close to the performers. As the play is located in the early 1960s at Yale University, and many of the absorbing sequences detail the research on human subjects of experimental psychologist Stanley Milgram (Mark Langham), it seems that the audience, the apparent spectators, are there more as volunteer lab rats for the writer’s test cases.
Will they be appalled or simply puzzled by the refusal of Nazi Adolf Eichmann (Matthew Abotomey) to accept personal guilt for organising the transportation and gassing of many Jews, Poles, Slovenes and Gypsies? Will they be able to watch the realistic simulation of electric shock, enacted by Mike (Ash Sakha) during Milgram’s 1960s experimental research into authority and compliance, without flinching? Will they be amused by the back-chat and complicated relationships of a group of actors who earn their living by deceiving the subjects of experimental psychological tests? Will they feel that the actors are betraying not only the volunteer human subjects of the experiments, but also their craft?
The audience/lab rats have come because, even in these post-modernist days, they still look to plays to elucidate the human condition. One Way Mirror begins hopefully. Perhaps the 1960s experiments can explain something about the tendency of human beings to be compliant to an authority instructing them to commit acts against their personal conscience. Perhaps Eichmann and a million other Nazis were merely “accomplices” and carrying out orders. Perhaps the “confederates”, as the actors required by Milgram’s experimental methods were called, and the distressed “volunteers”, who later discovered the deception, were all grist to the human industry of “discovering” themselves.
What can be said is that the Milgram experiments reflect or mirror the time – the first experiment appeared in in the wake of the Eichmann trial – and were a product of a cultural desire to believe that understanding human behavior might preempt another holocaust. And what can be said about One Way Mirror is that it reflects or mirrors the cultural desire of our own time to believe that there can be no certainties, no truths, no ultimate moral authority. We are all actors, the play suggests, in disjunctive performances, or we are all audiences waiting for a part to come our way. One Way Mirror offers no handy encapsulation to comfort us except to question that what is offered to us as a reflection of “reality” is not, like the one way mirror, a deception.
There are many memorable moments. Abotomey handles a running gag with comical apology and Ophelia (Alison Benstead) brings a sweet ingenuousness to her role as a “confederate” and girlfriend. The cast as a whole is strong, and while several members play three roles, their grasp of each character eliminates any risk of confusion. In addition, the movement of sometimes nine characters in a limited area is managed with skill and probably intense rehearsal. The largeness of the concepts addressed in Gilchrist’s play is almost too overwhelming but the cohesiveness of the ensemble and ingenuity of the presentation make One Way Mirror an absorbing production.