Gregor Post’s (Benjamin Schostakowski) favourite place in Hallsop was the laundromat. His best friend was Billy the Bulimic. He dreamed of escaping. One day, he finds a postcard from Alaska. With the help of his narrator (Richard Doyle), Gregor will take us along on his amazing adventures, from Alaska, to Jerusalem, to Berlin, to the Amazon, all within an old study/bedroom.
The set (by Schostakowski) is seemingly simple, but detailed and transformative through Gregor’s imagination. Much of the joy of the work, created by Schorstakowski and Elizabeth Millington and directed by Millington, comes through the use of props and sets: when a sheet of fairy lights becomes the Alaskan night sky; a black desk fan becomes the propeller of an airplane; a section of the wall opens, the angle of the slats on a venetian blind is changed, and we are in a café in Paris. It’s the near stupidity of these objects and the joy with which Schostakowski and Doyle expose these normally unproposed solutions where much humour comes from. Much of the production makes little immediate sense to the audience, but it is the sense it makes to the exploring explorer of adventurous adventurer Gregor we latch on to.
Where What’s Wrong With Gregor Post? succeeds is in the awkwardness – both in Gregor’s physical ganglyness, and in his lack of social awareness. The Gregor we are introduced to, while adult, acts as a young boy, whirled away on an adventure to see the world. And indeed, the production carries us along on this vein of picture books and children’s’ movies where our young hero strikes out on his own, away from his hometown, and most importantly, away from his parents.
Gregor Post plays with this genre through the tired narrator, building the commentary with metaphor after metaphor, nonsense building upon nonsense. When this production hits these moments with just the right balance of Gregor’s innocence, black comedy, and the utter bizarrely of the situation, it is frequently hilarious.
Where the production falls down, however, is when the balance in humour is lost. A casual racism exists through the production, initially used as a means to reveal Gregor’s naivety and immaturity: he builds his life view upon heightened situations, a narrow perspective informed through snatches of life, built upon misunderstood conversations. Through this, initially we can laugh at Gregor, his narrator, and the “extreme extremists” who at one point Gregor must battle.
As the production moves forward, however, this innocence wanes. The creators have found many laughs in talks of oily rags, in dancing monkeys, in ridiculous nonsense metaphors, so I couldn’t understand why they continued to return to the racist images. This culminates in a scene uninfluenced and uncommented on by the scenes preceding or following where guest appearance Lachlan Rohdes appears as a Nazi youth singing “Tomorrow Belongs To Me.” During this performance, a lot of the good will of the audience was lost, becoming much less involved in the production. While moments were still funny, they were tainted by the scene that went before.
I think it is the lack of commentary that made the racist comments appear so animus that made them unforgiven in the production. They were shown as is, with no suggestion there was anything off about them. It’s not that these ideas were supported by the production: I just have no idea what they were trying to do at all.
There is a point where black comedy loses the essence which makes it okay to laugh, and for me What’s Wrong With Gregor Post? crossed that line. Before this happened though, I laughed a lot. I hope it has a chance to redress the balance, because many parts of Gregor Post are delightful.
Brisbane Festival presents Under The Radar featuring What’s Wrong With Gregor Post?, created by Elizabeth Millington and Benjamin Schostakowski. Directed by Elizabeth Millington, technical coordintaion by Lauren Makin, set design by Benjamin Schostakowski. With Benjamin Schostakowski, Richard Doyle, Lachlan Rhodes and the voice of Kimmir Mizuno.