Can a family be left to self-govern their own laws?

If acts of brutality are inflicted upon family members by family members, should the family retain control of the consequences?

Two couples, two sisters and one wayward (hugely irrelevant) friend, Feathers is a play of contrasts and comparisons. In isolation, some of the actions committed are reprehensible, but within the world of the play, they appear relative, and are largely managed by the family.

Feathers unpicks a fragile, damaged woman and lays her multifarious threads bare for other characters, namely members of her family, to gather and pledge to understand at their whim.

After years of estrangement, Marisa (Carrie Marx) and Dan (Ben Mann) welcome Marisa’s sister Edie (Eleanor Wright) into their home despite trepidation. Marisa and Edie have unresolved issues from a deep past which Dan is not willing to gloss over. Edie finds herself paired up with too good to be true Nate (Joshua Boyd-Campbell) who speedily declares his love for her. A love challenged by the building attraction between Dan and Edie. It is not until the twilight hour of this play that we are sure we’ve understood Edie enough to ascertain her intentions. Feathers ends with an exclamation mark that punctuates the finality of our assessment of Edie’s as a woman unhinged.

She is not the only character with gaping flaws, as symbolised literally by a cracked vase hauled around on stage. From the offset, Dan is bullish and cruel, lamenting the existence of his child and wanting Marisa’s company purely to scratch a sexual itch, the comedy of this situation is instantaneous but hugely unsatisfying.  She jokingly plays along with his offensively chauvinistic attitude, as if this is just a humorous by-product of getting married and having a child. Their relationship seems dated and misguided. Though she deals her own verbal jabs, she is still loyal to her husband. His misogynistic attitude is worked into the backbone of the play, and in fairness, the actor playing Dan delivers a strong performance. It just feels simplistic and reductive to depict men in this way, especially in light of what is to come next.

In contrast, Edie first appears dove like, adorned in white and peach hues; she seems vulnerable and almost angelic. As her stay at Marisa and Dan’s extends, we begin to witness the lustful dance that Dan and Edie commit to, escalating into a crescendo of violence. Feathers depicts a particularly complicated and ambiguous sexual abuse scene.  Edie both rejects and invites Dan’s advances, presenting one of the murkiest cases for abuse. She later claims rape to her sister’s repulsion. It turns out Edie has done this before, which casts some doubt on proceedings. In the case of Dan, we are made to watch a lengthy exchange between the pair. Dan, volatile and inebriated, unleashes a torrent of compliments upon wallflower Edie. Her response is unbalanced: playing shy, spreading her legs, proffering violent protests against any further action and then straddling him; it’s hugely unclear what is actually taking place. What we can ascertain is that they are both violent.

Edie commits the final moment of violence in the play. It is difficult to know whether the direction wants us to sympathise or condemn her. I suspect both.

The script feels highly irresponsible. It sensationalises abuse and uses it as a plot devise. Edie’s future is left up to her father, who Marisa makes clear is only a phone call away. And though there is talk of institution and police sirens are heard, one gets the sense that her fate is at the mercy of her sister.

Though the cast are strong in their performances and created an engaging show, there is something rotten in the script which pollutes the entire production.

Feathers is playing at The Hen and Chickens Theatre until November 27.

Photo: Jeremy Freedman