Pity poor tech billionaire wunderboy Luke who, upon instruction from God (a nightmarishly challenging claim for his chagrined pr director to sensitively negotiate) wanders into the American landscape to address the issue of violence, in all its various forms. A genius of external tech innovation (in the fields of aeronautics and artificial intelligence), organising the labyrinthine morass of internal and personal psychology and motivation proves a rather different creature. Most eagerly wish for a platitude or slogan to explain away the unfathomable. As much as our digital world would like to reduce the population to easily digestible algorithms, subtly manipulating our actions (late in this nearly three-hour epic a CEO of an Amazon-like monolith hilariously, but alarmingly, explains his new aesthetic for “relational purchasing”, which announces itself as an online sharing culture, but fundamentally passive-aggressively exploits users’ anxieties around associating with correct consumer choices), people persist in irrational and messy behaviour. I appreciate that, through Luke’s passage, playwright Christopher Shinn grasps at (several) big themes-school shootings, campus rape, sexual abuse, corporate encroachment on privacy, political correctness-but I’m not sure his conclusions are as profound or as complex as they ought to be. There’s a stubborn diffidence and coyness to the script just as it should be accelerating, a failure of nerve to dimensionally target the specific social, cultural, religious and political forces that give rise to such startling eruptions of violence (there are numerous tossed off lines that merely scratch the skin of topics). Perhaps part of this is intended: Luke, like many a messianic figure, must reach the frustrating understanding that most individuals crave easy answers and quick solutions, perfectly content to have all the hard work for the self done for them by an instructive authority: in Luke’s bewildered but steady response, I thought of Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest, the titular figure similarly struck by the refusal of his parishioners to examine themselves comprehensively and critically-the danger is that worship can quickly sour to resentment if not consistently placated.  The staging is stark and spare, like the people who populate it, hollowed out and searching. Ben Whishaw, with his spindly frame and still demeanour, a slightly cadaverous appearance, expertly embodies this questing, intensely earnest interloper-he projects a strange, ethereal energy many would find soothingly charismatic and want to follow. Both Whishaw and Shinn are sure to keep him credible as a human being as well, suggesting a spiritual and sexual constipation, an estrangement from self, that slowly lifts throughout the play. How much of what Shinn explores is a particularly American affliction is unclear: would the play need to be revised if set on another continent or country? An intriguing contemplation. Even if a bit facile near the end, the final scene gratifies, a moment of intimate connection for two people who have struggled to communicate through barriers of vulnerability, fear and pride: it’s in this sudden, simple and small brave openness, perhaps, where redemption and answer is found against all the noise and hostility and blood. Against runs through 30 September




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