Jarrod Duffy is Not Dead (Applespiel)
Metro Arts, Sue Benner Theatre
April 20 – 29
Have you ever had someone in your life at one time, who you lost contact with?
Someone you cared about.
How many years has it been since you’ve seen them?
Do you know where they are now?
If you did, what would you do?
Have you ever had someone who just…vanished?
It’s Wollongong, 2010 and two weeks before performing in an honours show, Jarrod Duffy, friend and member of the performance collective, Applespiel, doesn’t show up for a rehearsal. He’s disappeared, leaving behind the furniture at his house and no answers from phone calls, emails and Facebook searches.
“Jarrod Duffy Is Not Dead” is the story of that disappearance and Applespiel’s hunt to find their missing friend. It is important to know this essential premise before attending the show, because of the poignancy it brings to the photographs that are shared on-screen at its beginning as audience members sit in thought of the memories that lie behind the images and the emotions evoked by their recollection. Those most affected, however, are those who lost a friend, the members of Applespiel who begin the podcast section of the show with overlay of dialogue about Duffy’s character.
This initial section is particularly engaging in its authentic recreation of an episodic series, utlitising the genre’s features and respecting its usual structure. As it progresses from recollection of ‘good times’ antics, last conversations, speculative concerns for his safety and possible hints to the idea of leaving, to memories of the initial days after his first disappearance, it becomes clear that ‘memory is shitty’, allowing the audience to share in Duffy’s friends’ frustrations at initially dismissing his disappearance with stories of his flakiness and of how over time, blurred memories create amalgamated stories and even more uncertainly. But things are not all as they seem, as the audience realises in a second half that sees standup, song and appearance of the titular Duffy c/o cardboard cut-outs and then some.
As essentially a show of two halves, “Jarrod Duffy is Not Dead” is an ambitious work of anthropological storytelling that shows how sometimes you need to tell a story to have others ‘get it’. The resulting exploration of truth is both complex and compelling as we are posed questions about the meaning of ‘normal’, when a story exists and the need for narrative closure.
There is audience manipulation around original premise with its mention of figures of long term missing persons and the notion of bystander apathy, but deliberately so. As such, the show represents the fundamental nature of Metro Arts’ programming and championing of contemporary arts practice. As a part theatre, part live podcast show, “Jarrod Duffy is Not Dead” is far from a typical theatre experience. But that is its appeal. Its blend of live action and digital imagery is sure to give audiences much to talk about in terms of its artform as much as its message, provoked by its evocative final question of ‘do you get it?’