This Is How We Die is an explosion of epic poetry that tackles the absurd nature of life and the human desire to compartmentalise the self, the other and humanity. A one-man performance piece at the Ovalhouse that is book-ended by fifteen minutes of aural existentialism, it is a production that is as unique as it is moving, as it is disturbing.
Christopher Brett Bailey (writer/performer/musician) tells this story in the style of beatnik poetry, in an absurd and ethereal journey of profundity across the United States with his “sort of” girlfriend. After a freakish ‘meet the parents’ dinner gone wrong, they escape across America on a road that is as eerie as it is inspiring. Bailey and his girlfriend are met with strange characters along the way, and are confounded by death and existence the whole while.
Amidst the no-holds-barred analysis of our bleak and hypocritical society there is beautiful humour. Bailey’s dark and morose take on the open road sojourn has great heart within the poetry. His captivating delivery is filled with grand insight and macabre farce. One can’t help but laugh, whilst also feeling uncomfortable with the grotesque images of a decapitated priest, or a neo-Nazi father whose paralysed body is set into the shape of swastika.
At his little desk, with nothing more than a microphone, Bailey takes the audience through the highs and lows of life, stretching words to great ends only to realise that words are disappointing and are unable to articulate the visceral feelings of fear, loss and death. Upon announcing “Words are dead,” Bailey abandons language and ends the play with fifteen minutes of musical splendour that feels at times like a baptism of life and the last rites of death. Accompanied by George Percy, Alicia Jane Turner and Apollo (who with Bailey make up a haunting quartet), he delivers the audience to some sort of higher providence.
The subliminal lighting design of Sherry Coenen adds to the spirituality of the last fifteen minutes of the production. Coenen lights the stage in a mixture of elements of a great rock concert and instances of higher ascension, like celestial gates opening upon death. Fading in and out with barely a glimmer of the musicians, painting them as haunting angels of death, Coenen elevates the performance.
There is such clarity in This Is How We Die in spite of the heavy subject matter it tackles. Bailey interprets the farcical and morose into a beautiful and intelligible production full of poetry and philosophy. This is not merely a must-see, but a theatrical rite of passage.
This is How We Die is playing Ovalhouse until June 21. For more information and tickets, see the Ovalhouse website.