Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre: Prayer Machine – Theatre Review

When you get to be ‘middle-aged’, can you have it all? Can you reunite with your young love and attempt to have the life that you missed out on?

Directed by Krystalla Pearce, Prayer Machine tells the tale of love, loss, and deep regrets about life half lived; these are all themes that, of course, have been told many times before. The tale of two schoolboys involved in a romance and reuniting in the future for a hot and heavy affair is the stuff straight out of a modern gay story. However, these questions are what propels the story along to deliver something genuinely different.

The curtain opens on Peterson (Patrick Williams) alone in a hotel room waiting for Cantona (Joe Petruzzi). Peterson is married to a woman and is sneaking in sessions with Cantona around his busy life. While the two seemed to be a perfect match in their youth, now however, it is an entirely different story. The two have completely opposite personalities, Cantona being the head over heels smitten one, Peterson is the cruel, more serious one who treats their interactions as transactional.

Although Peterson is downright repugnant, there is a sense of mystery about his character’s motivations. He seemingly has the perfect life at first glance. He owns his home instead of renting like Cantona does; he has a wife and works in real estate (says it all). On the other side of the coin, Cantona is aloof and ‘Airy fairy’, he completely encapsulates a gay stereotype that may come off as offensive to some viewers. For me at the time, it was a little shocking to see this so blatant. Still, the way the story weaves the two characters attempting to reignite the flame from their childhood but instead showing just how different their lives now are, allows for this to be the exact point. We all know people like Peterson and Cantona; we’ve all had that high school crush you think about but may get the chance to get back to.

The scriptwriting of Prayer Machine is solid, and writer Eric Gardiner understands each character’s motivations and the type of uncomfortable story he is trying to tell. This does come a little undone by the performances from the two leads who attempt to understand the nuances of the script but don’t always stick with the landing. As the show progresses, Peterson peels back a few layers, and you can clearly see the inner conflict that he is going through. Fortunately, this will reignite your interest in the final act, leaving the audience desperate to see the “Will they or won’t they” conclusion.

The set design by Bethany J Fellows matched the characters personas and their state of mind. There are only a few changes during the 71-minute run time, however, the opening of the hotel room is minimal with bare walls empty and reflecting of the characters’ inner turmoil, where they find themselves in the middle of their lives.

The sex scenes between the two men all happen offstage. While it is obvious what is happening, some more of it happening on the stage would have helped make the actors more believable as a couple struggling with their lives.

The show closes with a monologue from Peterson; it attempts to redeem the character from his terrible traits in the show. Was this enough to redeem him from all the damage and hurtful things he said to Cantona? And was there enough internal pain in Peterson to warrant the vicious attacks? Maybe.

Prayer Machine is a cleverly written and well-executed show that will undoubtedly make you uncomfortable watching it. The questions posed during it about life and choices that we make will resonate with you long after the curtains have closed. The performances from the two leads are a bit up and down but are ultimately saved by Gardiner’s clever writing.

Prayer Machine runs for 71 minutes with no intermission and is now playing until the 28th of November at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre @ Home in St Kilda. Prayer Machine was developed through Red Stitch’s INK program.
For more information and ticketing, visit: redstitch.net

Photography by Jodie Hutchinson.

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