Jeremy Culver & Charleene Closshey

Friday 10th August 2012

The J, Noosa

This is a show that happened – just once – almost purely out of synchronicity and the momentum of the universe a little while ago and it has stayed with me, tugging at my sleeve and whispering up at me until I could stop everything else for a moment and write about it. I look forward to its return to us and of hearing about its development and success overseas in the meantime.

Catharsis is a fantastic fusion of theatre, music, multi-media and live painting quite unlike anything I’ve experienced. It’s a living, breathing, beating work of unusual proportion and dimension. LA based production team, Jeremy Culver (also Writer and Director) and Charleene Closshey (also Musical Director and Actor), wanted to meld, seamlessly, up and coming Papua New Guinean painter, Jeffry Feeger’s process, with the art forms (drama and music), which they were accustomed to working within. Rather than being, as one might assume, a bio-drama about the artist himself, the play exists on its own and Feeger offers a commentary within it (behind it, around it), on the beauty of humanity. His work adds a deeper visual dimension to the action happening on stage and creates the reason for the work to exist beyond the evening’s performance.

So many elements contribute to this work working. The fact that Feeger paints a stunningly vibrant portrait live on stage in less than 2 hours is, by its own merits, impressive. In fact, for me, this was absolutely the highlight of the evening (outside of saying hello to the artist afterwards, who is brimming with exactly the same level of joy and intensity that we feel him emit during the show). As far as entertainment goes, to watch Feeger at work is almost enough.

A fascinating process, Feeger begins his work by raising a glass in Papua New Guinean tradition, red wine David Hart style, across the top of his canvas, allowing it to run down in rivulets, creating the foundation for a beautiful portrait of a woman, which gradually emerges out of layers and layers of colour. Feeger’s (untrained) approach is to apply the layers and then strip away the paint, much like a sculptor takes the clay or stone away, leaving a figure to appear out of the mass. The painting takes on many forms before we see Moy Sweetman’s strong, stunning face appear – there’s a mess of arteries and veins, the Tree of Life, a man’s haunting expression – but then, suddenly, there is Sweetman and her incredible aura is a rainbow of the kaleidoscopic colour we thought earlier might be a headdress of feathers…and perhaps it is. Feeger appears to know his subject intimately. He paints from a photograph, which he holds as he works.


I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set her free.



Moy Sweetman Catharsis


Jeffry Feeger


Moy Sweetman, the founder of Frangipani Dreams, is the subject of the painting and also, the subject of the play. Within the play, she becomes the subject of a film. There are layers upon layers upon layers to this work, as there are to Feeger’s. For the purposes of plot and content, Sweetman invites documentary maker, Cat (Charleene Closshey) to tell her inspiring story (meanwhile, Cat’s own story gets complicated; her husband, a photographer played by AJ Meijer, is kidnapped and tortured while on assignment). Sweetman’s (real life) story is a tough one too – we’re likely to see it on Australian Story next – containing all the elements to make a great film. It’s incredibly sad and moving and inspiring, largely because Moy is of course, the locally revered angel that Feeger sets free before our eyes. The anticipation is palpable. It’s as if the audience is holding their breath until they see her appear on the canvas.

The concept is a bit of clever capitalisation on a simple idea to localise live theatre. It’s one that Tanya Lee has made successful in this country through touring The Corrilee Foundation productions, such as One Night in Emerald City, which we saw in Noosa in 2010. It makes perfect sense. Localise your characters and the situation so that we care more about the subject of the story. Catharsis contains a massive amount of local detail, which delighted the audience at the world premiere, at The J in Noosa on Friday 10th August 2012. A number of Noosa businesses and locals were used in a considerable amount of footage, filmed over 10 days prior to the performance and projected onto a screen behind the acting space. The footage, as well as featuring and celebrating the local community (where the money raised from ticket sales and the sale of Feeger’s portrait of Sweetman will stay), serves to strengthen the relationship between the two actors’ characters.

Local actor and playwright, Frank Wilkie, joined the Americans on stage in the role of Cat’s boss; he assigns her the job of telling Sweetman’s story. It was a pleasant surprise to see Wilkie, the consummate professional in any role, play a valuable part in this production. His naturally confident manner and his sensitivity added wonderful intimacy and flow to scenes that ran the risk of slowing the pace considerably with some pretty stilted dialogue. His role is the one that will be filled by a local actor wherever the play goes.

It’s a lot to take in at once: a complex double-plot, a musical score (consisting of original compositions by local duo, Nick and Liesl) and a live painting, all staged beneath beautifully evocative lighting by Travis MacFarlane, like some extraordinary extreme physical challenge for artists. (Network Ten will want first dibs on that!). At times I found myself watching Feeger rather than the action out front but perhaps that was the intention. I wish I’d seen Colin Friels in John Logan’s Red about New York’s abstract expressionist, Mark Rothko. I remember reading Raymond Gill’s (The Age) analysis of all the films and plays we’ve seen about angst-ridden, angry artists and I’m relieved that Catharsis does not fall into that trap. Archibald Prize winning painter, Lewis Miller, observed about films that explore the artist’s creative torment, “They all lapse into the same use of the angry artist attacking the canvas with paint. When you see painters work in reality, they usually put it on very carefully.” This is certainly the case with Feeger’s process, which overflows with love and admiration for his subject. There is something incredibly spiritual about it and in fact, fascinatingly (and brilliantly) the play was penned around the process. And by that, I mean that the play runs for the length of time it takes Feeger to complete his portrait.

Catharsis challenges our notion of what theatre is. Sure, the story could do with some tightening and clarity, the vocals could do with some fine-tuning and additional power in parts (the duet that leads into the dénouement is absolutely superb and made me wonder why we hadn’t heard the performers’ voices in full long before that point. Probably a style decision.), and the pieces could all be stitched together a little more seamlessly but this is a show that is destined to be seen by audiences all over the world. We are blessed to have witnessed its first incarnation in Noosa and to have had the opportunity to support local angel, Moy Sweetman, and her Frangipani Dreams. I hope Catharsis returns to us in its next life. I would love to experience this show again, whatever its form.

We do good that the world might see that man is more than he appears to be & can give more than he appears to have.

Mother Rytasha

Frangipani Dreams

Jeffry Feeger Art

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