TRANSCENDENCE: Theatre Review

 What: Transcendence

When: 23 - 28 January 2023

Where: The Butterfly Club (Upstairs)

Written and Directed by: Wayne Stellini

Performed by: Kyle Cuthbert, Ivan Koetsveld, Anthony Pontonio, and Michael Robins

Stage Managed by: Fulya Kantarmaci

Michael Robins and Anthony Pontonio

Midsumma Festival is here and Melbourne is full of fun and fabulous things to see and do which are all very glittery and outrageous. Underneath all the celebration and love though, lies a historic and still current narrative of pain and struggle for people to be accepted for who they are and to be allowed to speak/live their truths. Straddling both the pain and the glitter is a little play showing at The Butterfly Club called Transcendence.

Transcendence, written by Wayne Stellini, is the story of a 15 year old young man who is facing perhaps the most critical moment of his life. It begins with a fairly normal and sweet scene between father, Robert, (Michael Robins) and son, William, (Anthony Pontonio). The mother is out of the house and the father has been packing some old things in boxes for storage. This has made him sentimental and he wants to spend some bonding time with his son watching Stallone movies he found whilst packing stuff away. William is sassy, wanting to stay in his room, and Robert is sad and uncomfortable (and ripped!) but nothing seems out of the ordinary.

When Robert leaves the room William goes through the boxes and then the story starts to be revealed as he pulls out a lipstick and a scarf. He plays with the scarf and starts to put on the lipstick but hears his father outside his room and he hurriedly puts them away. This is when we begin to understand what the wall between father and son might be. William's friends arrive and together they reveal the truth about William's life and what looms before him in the guise of Camp Chrysanthemum.

I was excited when I was invited to review Transcendence because I have seen Stellini's work before. In 2020 I saw The Boy I Paid For and all of the things I loved about that show are still true for Transcendence - which proves it wasn't a fluke! Transcendence is full of honesty and authenticity in both the writing and the performances. What is most striking about Stellini's writing and directing is that he is not afraid of the pain and vulnerability and it speaks volumes that his actors are ready and willing to bare the pain and confusion he asks them to expose.

William and his friends Ricky (Kyle Cuthbert) and Felicia (Ivan Koetsveld) provide a spectrum of queer which allows us a window into the complexities of the LGBTQI+ community. It also allows us insight into how family and community feed into the problems and solutions, inclusions and exclusions. It is also a warning to parents who 'mean well' that the picture on the box of reform programs may not be exactly what you are getting. Conversion therapy may be technically illegal, but how many parents are turning a blind eye and pretending they don't know what is happening to the children they send away to 'camp'?

Transcendence is a serious play about serious issues, but it wouldn't be Midsumma if it didn't have some spirit and spangle. I haven't heard Mel & Kim's 'Respectable' in decades but this is the time I enjoyed it the most - and William's dress is to die for! Felicia's dream sequence about the rock hard Robert is also belly-achingly funny.

Stellini's true gift is in allowing us to see that there are no villians. Everyone is just doing the best they can within the story they have chosen for their lives. What is exciting to see is the moment of transcendence for William - the moment he chooses the story he is going to live.

Transcendence does not feel like the full play. I feel like there is an Act 2 and and Act 3 and I really hope I get to see them all one day. If this was a film I would say Transcendence in its current form is the inciting incident and I really want to see the rest of the movie!

4 Stars

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