Recorded video reviewed by Barry Lenny, Sunday April 3, 2022.
Dr. Corinna Di Niro, who earned her doctorate in Commedia dell’arte, turned her attention to the subject of domestic violence. For her company, Stage Secrets, she adapted and directed the play by the late Geoff Gillham for Theatre-In-Education (TIE), bone cage, which appears in her book, Six Plays for Theater in Education and Youth Theatre. She has included a range of modern technologies to increase her impact on the audience. It was introduced to the public in two ways, a live performance at the Hartley Playhouse and streamed to watch at home. Rated MA15+, a Q&A session followed the performance.
Quoting the advertisement, for simplicity and accuracy, “Corinna Di Niro runs an independent theater company, Stage Secrets, and is a creative lecturer/researcher at the University of South Australia. She is passionate about using the theater as a tool for social change, in particular, raising awareness of issues affecting women and children.His adaptation of “Bone Cage” pushes the boundaries of theater by incorporating immersive technology – a concept from his VR+Theatre TEDx talk in 2019. In collaboration with other UniSA creators, Corinna and her team of local artists demonstrate the power of theater in this heartbreaking and tragically beautiful play that confronts the very real and often conflicting challenges of women who attempt to leave abusive relationships.”
Before the performance begins, the audience receives a QR code that can be used to download an app, so they can interact with the Q&A session after the performance.
It opens in a bar, where two women, fellow workers, are having a drink. Scenes from the bar are projected onto screens behind them. The husband of one of the women arrives and is introduced to the other woman. We see the faces that the couple displays to the outside world, that of a couple in love. His interrupting their conversation, removing his wife’s drink from his hand, and immediately leaving with her, seems innocuous enough at the time. He does, however, exercise his control over her.
Throughout, the soundscape, the lighting, the projections and even the costumes are very important, adding other aspects to the work.
In the next scene, he rolls around in a creaking, creaking structure, the bone cage, a thing of wooden beams, chicken wire, iron railings, chains and locks. She is attached to it by a rope around her neck. The projected backdrop is now an abandoned building, symbolically representing the house as it has become for her. He subjects her to a tirade of mental abuse, controlling every aspect of her existence. She also shows signs of physical abuse. He monitors his phone messages. The cage, of course, is inside her head, built and maintained by her husband, and from which she sees no way to escape, such is the force of his continuing campaign to demoralize her and make her to hush up. She has lost all hope of escape. The dialogue is minimal and the long silences add to the tension. He falls asleep snoring.
The night passes and, emerging from the darkness, videos of violence are projected, giving way to the same abandoned building. A second woman appears, offering her support, freedom and happiness, asking her why she is staying and suggesting an escape. It could be an internal chat, a chat with herself, and a chat she’s probably had a hundred times. She tries to dismiss the whole idea.
He states, from his subconscious, his belief that he is master of his small domain, in complete control, to obey without question, and with the right to punish transgressions. His harassment is terrible. His internal conflict is heartbreaking. She wants to leave, but has plenty of excuses to stay, despite what staying means to her. She thinks leaving might be worse than staying. She was brainwashed, conditioned by him. One could suggest that it is a variant of Stockholm syndrome.
Snippets of text had appeared in the spaces between scenes, and they now fade to a wall of text, phrases from the play. Will she go, will she stay? This is an open ending to the play and leads into the Q&A session.
There is a large team of people assisting Dr. Di Niro in this complex production, contributing to every aspect, technical and artistic. They are Susannah Emery and Claudia Kuerschner, audience interactivity, Andrei Gostin, film and lighting, Dr. Phil van Hout, soundscape, Gina Matezki, immersive video and sound, and Jonathan Kovarch, digital media and photography. Of paramount importance, of course, are the superb performances of Robert Donnarumma, the husband, Georgia Laity, the wife, and Suzanne Bleeze.
The immediacy, the immersion that would have been felt by the audience in the room is, of course, largely lost watching a video, but it’s still a powerful performance. This is an important work that goes far beyond a theatrical production and will no doubt be performed on many other occasions in the future.
Photography, Jonathan Kovarch