Theatre review: Apologia
Apologia reverberates with irony — from staging to concept to motif. The production opens in an English suburban kitchen where an upright oven-stove stands curiously beside a refrigerator. The play is at once a satire on the youthful leftist protests that swept across continents in the late 1960s and a homage to their legacy.
Kristin is an art historian in her sixties. She has just published a book, on which the play is entitled, that is a defence on her leftwing political convictions. Because she calls it a memoir, her sons, Peter and Simon, feel deeply hurt about having been left out of any mention. So, when they arrive for dinner on her birthday, they do so with indignation and every intention to confront.
Alexi Kaye Campbell’s skilful production fashions the kitchen/dining room into a microcosm that cuts across space and time. As he populates, with a character, each quarter of the society across generations, Campbell invites us to examine their interaction with one another.
In the first act, Kristin carries all the metaphorical placards that exult Marxist values. She belittles Peter’s banking profession for its capitalist ruthlessness. She is prejudiced against anything American — including Peter’s fiance, Trudi. Delusionally sanctimonious, she derides Simon’s partner, Claire, who is a television actress seduced by conspicuous consumption. Like the young protester of yester-year, she fails to perceive her own restrictions on others’ freedom of choice and her want of tolerance that she claims to deplore.
Also present is her fellow activist from more than four decades ago, Hugh. Self-deprecatory with bursts of ribaldry, he represents those protesters more interested in revelling than in rallying.
Nevertheless, Campbell wants to remind us of their accomplishments. He weaves into the story 14th century artist, Giotto, whom Kristin admires as the vanguard of humanism. It is a nuanced, if elusive, attempt to convince us that the 1968 rallies heralded the freedom and equal rights that many of us enjoy — and take for granted — today.
Apologia is an enigmatic piece that tucks these stirring undercurrents beneath the visceral desolation of a mother who is estranged from her sons. While Kristin is defiant towards Peter’s volcanic outbursts in the first act, she seems to have metamorphosed in the second. When younger son Simon, unemployed and a floundering novelist, arrives and blames her for his “dysfunctional, disjointed and disillusioned” existence, she is distraught and expressly chastened.
Although Robyn Nevin is renown as a theatre veteran and the stage is evidently her second home, her character Kristin does not win over my empathy. However, there are excellent performances by Laura Gordon as Trudi, Ian Bliss as Peter and Ron Falk as Hugh. Helen Christinson gives Claire an arguable depth of character that surfaces in the second act. But it is Patrick Brammall’s Simon who is striking with his haunting reproach.
The narrative is a tad crowded with a smattering of banal, even racist, elements: spilled wine on a “Japanese dress”, finger nail in “Chinese Chop Suey”, lurid phone call from a secret lover.
Above all, Apologia begins and ends in an echo of ironies. Trudi, who embodies the culture and values Kristin regards as anathema, turns out to be the perspicacious one to tease out the epiphany. Kristin is an art historian strangely ignorant of a Liberian mask significant to her crusade for women’s rights. And, finally, in this family drama, there is a birthday — without a birthday cake.