Morgan Stern

Review: Morgan Stern (Company Of Rogues)

posted in Theatre by Suzy Wrong


Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Nov 23 – Dec 3, 2016

Playwright: Gina Schien
Director: Goldele Rayment
Cast: Graeme Rhodes
Image by Chrissie Ianssen

Theatre review

The Gent awakes in 1972 after a deep slumber. The Edwardian era is now long gone, but there is unfinished business still to be taken care of. He returns to this mortal coil, to find resolution, as a ghost and as guardian angel to a certain Morgan Stern, who faces a set of problems not unlike the ones our Gent had had to deal with, when taking care of his own daughter, back in those less than halcyon days. It was early 19th Century when he last found himself in these challenging circumstances, and it appears very little has changed after two hundred years.

Complex and incredibly rich, Gina Schien’s imaginative writing offers extraordinary insight into the human condition and the glitches in our lives that so often surprise and derail. The language is beautiful, with sensitive attention paid to rhythms and imagery that makes the play an involving one. Dramatic tension can sometimes be lost in its poetic approach, but director Goldele Rayment’s manipulations of atmosphere and spacial configurations are cleverly calibrated, with only one actor and one swivel chair sustaining our concentration. Tegan Nicholls’ work on sound and Roderick van Gelder’s lights are both noteworthy in their efforts to transform and transport our consciousness through the production’s mystical qualities.

Graeme Rhodes delivers an astonishing performance for the one man show, completely captivating with a presence full of conviction and a mental focus impressive with its precision. His voice and physicality are both commanding, both exactingly channelled in each of the play’s sequences, to impart meaning and enthralment. We are amazed by the way his memory is able to contain so much text, seemingly effortlessly, but more importantly, his airtight authority over the material’s depths and expanses, and his ability to exercise inventiveness along with elucidating the writing’s trickier ideas, have us flummoxed, in awe.

When art talks about reality, it does so differently from science. Morgan Stern is about contradictory realities, and how it is necessary for us to be able to encompass things that are not subjectively logical into existence. The world is infinite, in scale and in possibilities, and much as we think that the stuff we know is all there is, art will tell us that the opposite is true. The stuff we know, and the stuff that is knowable, will always and forever be infinitesimal, and every life must count, however inconvenient the other may be.
















Graeme Rhodes as The Gent in Morgan Stern. Photo: Chrissie Ianssen


Sydney Morning Herald

by Jason Blake

Blood Moon Theatre, Kings Cross, November 26.
Until December 3

Gina Schien’s 90-minute monologue begins with the sudden awakening, in 1972, of an antique figure from the English Georgian era, known only as The Gent.

Part ghost, part protector, he has been assigned to the other side of the planet to minister to Morgan, a young Sydneysider suffering from schizophrenia. The Gent is well qualified. His own daughter Catherine, he tells us, suffered “an excess of excitement” and was committed to the Bethlem asylum.

“I can see you. I can hear you. And every person in whatever room you occupy,” says The Gent (Graeme Rhodes) to the empty office chair representing Morgan. “You are the central drop in a small ocean. The pearl in an oyster to which I am privy. You can’t see me. But every now and then you’ll get a … shiver.”

When he attempts to tune into Morgan’s thoughts, however, it’s The Gent who feels the electricity – a sharp, repulsing shock.

Informed by the lived experience of her own brother, Schien’s text is dense and crowded with incident. The narrative jumps between centuries and across hemispheres. Places, people (historical figures among them) and stories crystallise and dissolve. The Gent’s telling of his daughter’s carriage ride to a brand new Bethlem adds a note of gothic tragedy to the proceedings. The image of a one-eyed ornamental goldfish comes back to haunt you.

Morgan Stern demands a high level of concentration but does reward it. It strikes as a piece that would work particularly well as audio theatre. But this bare bones staging directed by Goldele Rayment brings it to life strongly – and Rhodes gives an exceptional performance in the less-than-optimal conditions offered by this venue.





Production photos by Chrissie Ianssen (c).

One of the great achievements that writers accomplish is in the area of non-fiction, in their ability to bring people and their stories to life, so that they can be shared with everyone.

For many years Melbourne writer and playwright Gina Schien has wanted to her late brother’s story – his battle with schizophrenia which saw him in the end take his own life.

The result is her play Morgan  Stern which received its premiere production at Blood Moon in a production directed by Goldele Rayment.

It was really hard to hold back the tears as we watched Morgan’s painful, bizarre, brilliant story unfold in a very moving solo performance by Graeme Rhodes who played a number of  different characters as well as Morgan.

There was a haunting line in the play which bears repetition – ‘We can only guess at the hurt we cause. We are all a foreign language language to each other.’

The Company of Rogues and Blood Moon Theatre’s production of Gina Schien’s MORGAN STERN had only a too brief season at the Blood Moon Theatre between the 25th November and the 3rd December.


Photo credits – Chrissie Ianssen



Company of Rogues and Blood Moon Theatre

23 November to 3 December

“The clinic—constantly praised for its empiricism, the modesty of its attention, and the care with which it silently lets things surface to the observing gaze without disturbing them with discourse—owes its real importance to the fact that it is a reorganization in depth, not only of medical discourse, but of the very possibility of a discourse about disease.” The Rise of the Clinic – Foucault

“We are all a foreign language to each other” – The gent, Morgan Stern

That thing we call madness (mental illness) is one of the few medical conditions that still casts our thoughts “back” in time to archaic institutions where strait jackets, healing tortures, rape and other horrors were the order of the day for the people society defined as mad. It’s as if the human directly acquainted with the problem uses the past to reconcile inner conflicts, promising themselves we have come a long way and the institution is no longer the place it once was. But the automatic guilt we experience when confronted with mental illness, followed by the reductionist consolation in the separation of mind and body, should tell us that inside of us,  little has changed. There is an abjection, a tumultuous revulsion that occurs when presented with mental illness. It calls forth the most unpleasant responses in the psyches of the sane and it is these responses we most fear. If we each reflect the other, then spare me from what I might see in the curved glass as I wander through this hall of mirrors.

In her play Morgan Stern, Gina Schien reveals the mosaic nature of our relationship to mental illness. Her brother, the Morgan of the title and the body/psyche setting for the play, is a diagnosed schizophrenic. We exist in Morgan’s head, yet we are also at a distance. Our guide is a ghost of schizophrenia past, or is he one of the voices Morgan hears? The Gent, it is slowly revealed, is both these things, but he equally represents the voice in our head, the multiple sides of the observers conflicting or “split” psyche. He is from the our past, a Georgian, spawned of of Baudelaire’s modernity and Foucault’s medical gaze, but his discourse haunts societies perspective of Morgan Stern and is, unfortunately, timeless. The Gent pretends to scrutinise Morgan with a dispassionate distance, and yet he is equally haunted by his own fractured and tragic relationship to mental illness. He frequently appeals to a higher authority, a kind of spiritual overlord represented by a supposed two-way mirror planted over Morgan’s life. Who is behind that mirror? Gina Schien’s narrative flows between a spiritual overseer and a practical one. God the divine, and god the medical practitioner.

The Gent controls the conversation around Morgan. A ghost of the enlightenment, yet refusing to see what is before his eyes. “Will you believe the emotion of your wife or the rationality of your physician” is a question posed to him at the plays climax. What we know from the story trajectory, is the wife is displaying great rationalism, while the hysteria comes from the medical discourse, but The Gent is as much a tragic victim of perspective as his daughter and Morgan. When he leaves his crying wife in her carriage to go to the gentleman’s club to play cards and drink with the men, it is not rationality he pursues, but his role in the discourse. He takes comfort in the society of men, consensus being more important than truth. He is all of us, abandoning the most interesting and vulnerable for the comfort of familiarity and the rules we pretend to abhor but obey obsessively.

Morgan Stern is a troubling, beautiful, uplifting ninety minutes that will leave you breathless at times and confused, worried and mournful during the gaps between. The first half of the play forces the audience to question the very nature of mental illness. Performer Graeme Rhodes speaking Gina Shien’s words has us question ourselves, our perception and blossoms within the idea that mental illness might be misdiagnosed creativity. Shien is too talented a writer to labour this point, but her words in the hands of director Goldele Rayment and Rhodes lead us down many meandering paths inside our perceptions. The beauty and expanse of Morgan’s mind is represented with tremendous power and scope by the three creatives on display. Tegan Nicholls Sound design is eerie and cold, perfectly matched with Roderick van Gelder’s lighting design, which floats and flickers with layered menace. What is left to us, among all this enigma is the task of discerning the roots of our fears.

Every show isn’t for everyone. Morgan Stern, nestled in the delightful back room bowels of World Bar, is a cerebral affair, couched in cogent darkness, inspiring feelings of fear and dread. It’s the sort of theatre I live for – but it aint everyone’s cuppa. However, if you like to ask yourself the hard questions and for theatre to make demands of you, this is the show.

Highly recommended.