Homo Pentecostus – Theatre Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Homo Pentecostus is a collaboration between actor-dancer-writer Joel Bray, performer Peter Paltos and theatre expert Emma Valente, all identifying as queer and focusing on the lived and professional experience of this group, with Bray and Paltos in particular, having experienced growing up in a religious institute. Where being queer is one of the worst things you can be, the troupe make the onstage experiences even more impactful, than if they were just acting.

Word association with the Pentecostal Church is part of the show’s opening, with the audience throwing out suggestions such as “Speaking in Tongues”, “Hillsong” and “Scott Morrison”. The banter back and forth that follows between Bray and Paltos, continues throughout the show and remains one of the standouts.

To understand, the experience of opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit is through song and this is such a huge part of a Pentecostal Church sermon. In Homo Pentecostus, Bray and Paltos lead us through a glorious experience of Cher’s ‘Believe’. Now, I always find myself apprehensive whenever I’m asked to stand during a performance, but this was so much fun and really felt like it brought the crowd together.

This isn’t the first time that movement and music make an important part of the production, Bray’s exceptional dancing is breathtaking in these sequences, exuding either deep pain or raw sexuality. One sequence in particular, when Paltos takes us through an intense confessional of our sins projected behind him, the background performance by Bray builds as Paltos reads through the numerous sins dictated by the Pentecostal Church. The intensity of this sequence grows to the point where I felt a lump in my throat, with my body feeling tight as my eyes fixed on the stage. The fact that the production crew was able to bring the vibe of the room back to a humorous tone without feeling jarring in the next sequence is a testament to creative talent in their storytelling.

Homo Pentecostus is structured simply, the set is a blank room with blue carpet and white plastic chairs that start at the back of the stage and become chaotic structure for the performers to dismantle by the end. It’s the simple structure that allows the power of the story breathe and be truly impactful. There are no gratuitous sets needed, the stories are what’s needed here.

Peter Paltos’ emotional monologue about his Armenia Grandfather and the branding of a crucifix on his head, given during the Armenian Genocide, despite the suffering that Paltos had endured at the hands of religious organisations, he can’t speak poorly of Christianity due to the experience of his grandfather.

This discussion is a stark parallel to Joel Bray, a Wiradjuri man who knows nothing but pain from Christianity, a genocide of First Peoples and the prevention of language that has resulted in neither his father nor himself being able to speak it. Knowing that both had suffered so much at the hands of Christianity, the frank discussion between the two filled me with emotion, and I was surprised when I began to cry at the thought of the levels of suffering because of religion, and then the need to find solace in it.

Paltos is an an actor that everyone will adore, able to make them laugh from their belly and cry from the depths of their heart, proving that he was a perfect casting choice. Working alongside Joel Bray and Emma Valente, together they have created beautiful narrative of insight into the way religion leaves a mark on people that can be either deeply painful or deeply comforting.

Bray is a born performer and gifted dancer that knows just how important music is and how it can enhance a moment, adding something extra special to a performance, especially one that doesn’t follow a linear story. The Homo Pentecostus team have created a personal piece of thoughtful theatre that is deeply poetic, heartbreaking at times and heartwarming during others. Homo Pentecostus is the kind of performance that will linger in your mind long after you have left the theatre.

Please note: The content did warn about flashing lights and loud dynamic sounds, but the extent of this should be expanded. As an epileptic, I usually only have an issue with strobe lights, but the extremity of the flashing lights used did have a similar effect to strobes. For my own wellbeing, I tightly shut my eyes for some sequences when I worried a seizure might have been triggered.

Homo Pentecostus is currently playing at Malthouse Theatre, Beckett Theatre in Melbourne until May 25.
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Photography by Gianna Rizzo.

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