Mass Destruction: Part One + Part Two was a worthy and moving display of art and humanity, with creator Riordan Berry delivering exactly what he promised: “two shows in one glorious night”. Ultimately telling the story of Fletcher, a man living with severe depression, the performance was split into two parts by an intermission: the first, a captivating example of performance art; the second, a confronting and convincing work of theatre.
The first part of the evening began swiftly, as Berry drew a green chalk perimeter around himself and the simple props he needed: two black garbage bags, one potato-peeler, one knife, and some brown paper bags. Then a black shirt, yellow shorts and red undies were removed until a nude man stood before us, clad only in Doc Martens and a military helmet.
All eyes were downcast as he shed the exterior of one potato, then another, rendering them brutally naked by the sharp blade of the potato peeler, while Johnny Mandel’s ‘Suicide is Painless’ played on loop. We were told to look up the lyrics on our phones and join in. My phone was not on me, but nobody else took the offer up either, so Berry himself provided some accompaniment, at times singing softly along to the lyrics. It was an impressive performance, anchoring me and the rest of the audience firmly in the present moment — “a symptom of the twin birth of immediacy and obsolescence,” as the Metamodernist Manifesto, plastered at the theatre’s entry, explained.
At intermission, other spectators admitted to being “mesmerised” by the repetition of the same mundane action, wondering, “Do I step in?” A worthwhile question indeed, and one we were all asking ourselves as part two began. Alternating voiceover and viva voce narration, Berry highlighted Fletcher’s struggle with depression, identifying pornography, alcohol and other drugs as unfulfilling answers to the cruelty of mental illness. Berry’s realisation of this story was achieved with power and skill. Lines delivered live were read from a script, with some verbal stumbles, but if anything this served to humanise the performance further.
Technically, the show succeeded. Throughout part two, loud beats evocative of the bloody pulse of a human heart matched the energy of Berry’s impressive acting. Simple lighting cast a drab shadow on the depressing tedium of a household space, as tin after tin of baked beans were cooked, consumed and cast away, rendering the atmosphere dark and almost deliberately claustrophobic for the six spectators in the front rows. One awkward lighting delay, which left Fletcher audible but not visible, was the only technical fault of the entire evening.
Berry’s message was clear, and worth heeding. “Our people are dying, or trying to die.” Indigenous Australians, males, those from linguistically diverse backgrounds, artists: these are our people, he told us, disproportionately affected by depression and suicide. Berry confessed it took a long time to create Mass Destruction, but I am very glad he did.
This performance was as short, sharp and transformative as that single potato-peeler. To Riordan Berry, I say bravo.