Frank Barry’s Psychic Baedeker


An image used in Frank Barry’s Pity the Flesh. Images from Wikimedia Commons, photo composite by Rhonda Pelley

“A friend told me that it’s really dangerous to spend a lot of time looking at images of tortured people and reading these accounts. It depresses you, it really does,” says Frank Barry. “After my initial period of ‘dark research’ as I call it, I went through a terrible depression. And I would never have said before that I got depressed. I have a certain world view and I’m an informed person and sometimes I lose faith but I’m an artist. I’m a hopeful person.”

Pity the Flesh is the latest play from local writer, actor and director Frank Barry. The protagonist is The Writer and what unfolds is the travelogue from his journey through hell as he tries to write a play about the history of torture. While researching and trying to deal with such heavy subject matter, The Writer starts to come unhinged from reality, and he tries to work out why he is so susceptible to the images in the media.

No one around him seems to be affected, they are victims of the ‘hypno-hearth’ he says.

He concludes that if democracy means that the government is a representation of its people, then we the people are complicit in whatever is done in our name.

There may be only one person on stage cracking in front of us here, but Barry seeks to point out the bigger fault lines in the foundation. “I’ve always done political plays,” he says. “I’m interested in productiveness. That’s what intrigues me. That interests me in the world. How society is put together. How it functions historically and now.”

The set for the play is simple: The Writer operates in a spotlight while images are projected onto a screen hanging next to him. The images that accompany The Writer have been designed by text and photo-based artist Rhonda Pelley.

There is an interesting parallel between this play her installation last summer “The Spirit Rooms—A Bus Shelter Project.” One of the themes in Pity the Flesh is anesthetic function of the media. Pelley’s photography installation turned the function of the bus shelter advert on its head by filling the commercial, public space of the ad poster into the personal expression of an artist.

In talking to Barry about his play, he tells me that he has had the play in the works for about three years. In that time he has also written a two film scripts, with rewrites, and another play that he still hopes to produce.

This play in particular has been so hard to write.

“It’s kind of funny,”Barry says, “This is my play about torture, but what this guy is telling us is that he never could write the play about torture because he couldn’t understand it. He couldn’t understand what torture was and he starts to believe that maybe it’s our sacred duty not to understand it. That you would have to be some other kind of beast altogether to understand, inhuman.”

Wreckhouse Theatre’s Pity the Flesh, written and Performed by Frank Barry, $20, Rabbittown Theatre-106 Freshwater Rd 739-8220 (Wed Mar 3 – Sun Mar 7 at 8pm / Pay-what-you-can matinee Sun Mar 7 at 2pm)

Show cancelled: “Due to unforeseen circumstances, the run of Wreckhouse Theatre’s Pity the Flesh scheduled for this weekend at the Rabbittown Theatre has been canceled.”