Daniel Burmester and Jonathan Maloney in Ross Muellers No Mans Island.
Confined in a land down under
By Nicholas Luckenbaugh
In the heyday of British colonialism, statesmen of Great Britain used the newly acquired Australian outback as a destination for prisoners, sending what were only seen as the dregs of society to a faraway location beyond the reaches of civilization. This former continental prison becomes a setting of convicted isolation once again, only now on a more intimate level in Ross Muellers No Mans Island, GUTWorks new production at HERE Arts Center.
Muellers script is far from plot-driven, as the events transpire in brief but powerful vignettes. In each of these scenes, inmates Rob, played by Daniel Burmester, and Tim, played by Jonathan Maloney, clash as they attempt to endure the confinement of prison. Maloney displays a constant battle between hope and practicality, going back and forth between intense sarcasm and glimmers of faith in the possibility of life in confinement. As Tims opposite in intelligence, Rob is naturally childlike, providing physical comedy to mask his ignorance. Despite the vivid portraits painted by each prisoner, however, their reason for imprisonment is unclear, which somewhat detracts from the production.
The confining walls of a dark cell inspire reminiscence, and in their captivity, inmates Rob and Tim surrender to the beckoning call of memory. In coming to grips with their pasts, the two form an unlikely bond, forced to interact within their locked chamber. You could be my brother, says Rob, and so begins a sort of brotherhood, the two playing footie to pass the nonexistent time and chase away nightmares of the actions that haunt them. Maloney and Burmester thrive in the unstable connection, allowing for a truthful creation of kinship.
No one is alone, says Tim, consoling Rob in a moment of hysteria. The message is old and contrived, but Mueller and GUTWorks have managed to spring life into the adage. By confining humanity within walls, both physical and social, the men of No Mans Island endure a darkness of despair where denial and forgetting are the only means of survival. Yet through each others volatility, hope forms. The production doesnt attempt to say that all will resolve itself, but it does acknowledge the existence of hope and the possibility of survival when the human spirit seems nonexistent.