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The Disappearance

The Disappearance
Writer: Les Solomon
Director: Les Solomon
Chippen Street Theatre
October 10-22, 2023

The Disappearance, adapted by Les Solomon from Kim Platt’s novel The Boy Who Could Make Himself Disappear, fits well with Mental Health Month which is intended to raise community awareness and understanding of mental health issues. The play explores the state of mind of a 15-year-old American teenager who like Huckleberry Finn and Holden Caulfield before him, withdraws from a world that seems to have no place for him.

The action opens with an address by psychologist Dr Roberta Clemm (Rebecca Matthews) who is treating a completely unresponsive young Roger Baxter (Gordon Vignelles). Quietly authoritative, she tells the audience that a human baby if confined to a box and knowing no other life, would accept confinement as the norm. However, if the child experienced a taste of other possibilities, it would fight vigorously against a return to the box. In the case of Roger that rebellion took the form of forgetting who he was.

Fresh-faced Vignelles plays the testing role of Roger with an appealing mixture of humour and painful vulnerability. He manages both Roger’s raw self-consciousness at his physical inability to pronounce “R” and his engaging directness in not allowing others to point it out first. Unfortunately, both his overbearing selling insurance-to-the-stars dislikable father (Joe Clements) and his abused, confused often pitiable mother Stella (Kath Gordon) both feel belittled by Roger’s impediment and offer him no emotional support or warmth. Their divorce and his mother’s decision to relocate to Australia form the bones of the play.

While we learn more about Roger’s life we are situated in an unstructured space – the fluctuating, piecemeal mind of Roger. The suspended and separate pieces of sheeting that form a background to the comings and goings of the characters suggest the state of Roger’s mental health. He is in pieces and without firm ground. His experiences with a speech therapist and a sarcastic teacher, Mr Rawlings (also Clements) are humiliating, and a supportive connection with a feisty Nemmo Newman (Isha Desai) offers him the warmth of scarf and jumper. However, it is through the kindly Chris Bentley played by Talia Sigsworth with refreshing ingenuousness, and her debonair partner, the Frenchman Rogére (Andrew Lindqvist) that Roger experiences the possibilities of loving relationship.

Roger’s life is marked by disappearances.  His father is left in New York, his mother seeking self-validation is seldom at home leaving with the words “get yourself something to eat”, David (Jake Neal) a school friend is briefly appreciative, Nemo goes abroad with her mother, Rogére goes to Paris and even the good Dr Clem is likely to vanish with the words ‘I’ll be back”. When her patient withdraws beyond her reach at a final desertion and self-negation finally becomes self-annihilation, Dr Clemm struggles to find the key to to bringing Roger back.

The actors bring conviction and understanding to their roles. Kath Gordon while alienating us through her selfish behavior does garner a residue of pity as she struggles to accept that she should disappear temporarily from her son’s life and Joe Clements tackles the difficult task of three different roles with panache. However, the characters suffer from being very close to stereotypes – the bad parents, the wise and understanding psychologist, the sarcastic teacher, the good fairy and her French lover – although there are one or two gestures at showing an out of character action.

A nice touch was provided by having a live and original music accompaniment by Liam Faulkner Dimond.

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