Andy Harmsen’s new play Foreign Bodies is an attempt at unpacking the truth behind our society’s relationship with pornography. A young Australian journalist, Martin (Alan Chambers), arrives at the Mumbai hotel room of ex-porn star, Arizona Snow (Marika Marosszeky), to interview her for a profile. As they talk, the interview quickly spires out of control, before plunging into more fraught conflict between the pair.
It’s difficult to find much to recommend in this production. Both the actors are obviously capable performers, even if the confines of the muggy, atmospheric space highlight many points where they overreach in volume and intensity. Director Chris Baldock has carved out an impressive career in Melbourne theatre, culminating in an acclaimed independent production of The Laramie Project. But just as Arizona is seen in a fleeting, intriguing image at the play’s beginning, attempting to contort her body into the shape of an Indian deity, the greatest sense is that the actors and director are working within confines imposed by the flawed text.
The characters are intensely unlikeable but are drawn so inconsistently that it’s difficult to even root against them. At points, the characterisation appears almost arbitrary — in particular Martin’s sudden outbursts of casual racism, which are just as inchoate as the muffled banging and yelling of the play’s (offstage) Indian characters. As the play winds down, the clanking move towards pathos doesn’t humanise these figures. If anything, in the context of the action onstage, such a tonal shift just further debauches an otherwise tender moment.
The program notes refer to Zizek's notion of "the tragedy of pornography" — its inability to be taken seriously. But shows like this are a reminder that the subtle inverse is true: that tragedy is pornography — that since Ancient Greece, playwrights have taken a female object and denied her agency to elevate a male subject. What Foreign Bodies doesn’t do is critique that dynamic with any sense of self-awareness. Instead, the level of engagement with ideas as complex as the conflict between our public and private persona skitters along an undisturbed surface. For all the talk of penetration, 70 minutes in the theatre leave us no more illuminated than when we entered.