Ten years ago Australia’s conservative prime ministerial candidate, John Howard, was elected on the promise he would create a “relaxed and comfortable” society. In 2006, Australian society is blighted by racist tension between white “Aussies” and Middle Eastern immigrant “Lebs,” but apart from that, the country is economically prosperous, politically stable and so damn “relaxed and comfortable” that artistic rigor mortis is setting in. So STC’s staging of Peter Kenna’s 1973 drama “A Hard God” is a timely reminder of how far Australian society hasn’t come and how our playwriting could be so much better.
Set in the outer suburbs of Sydney in 1946, the semi-autobiographical saga draws on the scribe’s Irish Catholic family upbringing. The struggles of his parents and their siblings against the restrictions of their faith and failings of their culture are juxtaposed with the protagonist’s developing homosexuality.
The Cassidy clan are archetypal Irish Catholic Australians of that era, forced off the land by prolonged drought or famine and into the city where they live in the shadow of the Protestant mainstream.
Religion, family and a liberal amount of guilt are the keystones of their lives; Kenna unpacks these themes beautifully in this first play of a trilogy following the life of Joe Cassidy.
Denis Moore’s straightforward, faithful production featuring some of Australia’s best stage actors is well put together, although the accents of the Irish Catholic brothers — Max Gillies, Ralph Cotterill and Maeliosa Stafford — are all over the map.
Despite having two small roles, Kerry Walker as both Monica Cassidy and Sophia Cassidy acts the rest of the cast off the stage. She’s so completely in another league that the opening-night audience gasped and loudly applauded her efforts.
“A Hard God” is a timely reminder to Australia’s theater industry of its occasionally outstanding past.