This is the story of a group of actors (now theatre troupe Applespiel) at uni in Woolongong in 2010. Their friend, Jarrod Duffy, disappears a few weeks before they are all due to graduate. Duffy tells no one where he is going and leaves behind a room full of belongings in his share-house with no explanation. His friends are left bewildered and concerned. Years later and desperate for answers, they mount strenuous efforts to find out what happened to Duffy and why he disappeared. Now they have devised a show that explores the whole experience.
The majority of this play is a live podcast- meaning it’s five people sitting at laptops playing recordings and conducting live interviews of each other. It’s done in the style of podcasts like the very popular S-Town: an in depth and determined exploration of a person, who they are and their motives for behaving in extreme ways that are difficult to explain or comprehend. Production values are simple but effective- mainly using lighting to highlight who is speaking and occasionally projecting images of Duffy.
Ostensibly there is little ‘acting’ in this show, as the actors are not playing characters but themselves. However, they do have to recreate previous conversations they have been a part of as they reflect on quite personal thoughts and feelings surrounding specific events. Portraying yourself is a very particular kind of challenge, and the entire cast does it with aplomb.
Without giving away too much, this play is about sadness, guilt, the intricacies of friendship and the effects our actions can have on others. What’s very interesting about Jarrod Duffy Is Not Dead is that it’s also about the concept of truth and its place in storytelling. In this age of fake news and “alternative facts”, it can be hard to differentiate fact from fiction, especially when the story is coming from a seemingly reputable source (which many of us assume podcasts are). By letting the audience see how this story is told (for example- the emotive music choices, the photos of Duffy that are displayed, the questions that go unasked, the parts of conversations that are withheld), this play encourages us to have a healthy skepticism when it comes to choosing what we believe. They openly say in the show that this production is ‘a mix of truth and bullshit’ and of course many of their recollections of the same events differ vastly, highlighting the sometimes transient nature of truth in memory. Further, it questions how important the truth actually is, or whether there can be a more satisfying conclusion to a story than getting answers.
Jarrod Duffy Is Not Dead is a play that raises far more questions than it answers and proves to be an engaging and intriguing night at the theatre. It will speak especially loudly to anyone who has any loose ends in their life.
Jarrod Duffy Is Not Dead is playing at the Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre. For more details, see the Metro Arts website.