Writer and director Liviu Monsted’s newest production In Waiting is a cheap knock off of the Jean-Paul Sartre’s absurdist classic No Exit with a lot of the same problems as the teen Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. The play is uninteresting and disengaging to watch and is very problematic for multiple reasons. For those struggling with mental health issues, I would strongly suggest that you avoid this play.
The narrative loosely follows the 1944 play No Exit, as a group of people are stuck in an ambiguous waiting room, held there until they confront the unresolved issues in their lives that led to their deaths. The only real difference between In Waiting and No Exit is the number of people stuck in this room and the presence of a healer character, otherwise the plot mirrors No Exit almost exactly except without the tact, wit or skill of Sartre, the radical French philosopher and writer.
The similarities are made even more uncanny, as director and writer Monsted even stated his obsession with the existentialism genre, noting that; “it came to me about 3 years ago… I became obsessed with death after reading Waiting for Godot in 2009.” All writers are influenced by their predecessors and it’s exceptionally difficult to come up with a completely unique new idea, but this is just too close.
During the first twenty minutes of In Waiting there was potential for a quality performance. The plot and setting was well established and initial characterisation was strong. However, as the production continued, the promise that this new piece of work showed quickly dissipated.
The actors did what they could with what they were given. Most of them started with very distinct characterisation, vocalisation and physicality, but about five minutes into each of their respective scenes they starting losing their unique character traits and dipped in and out of them throughout the production. It left audience members confused as to who they were and made it more difficult to follow what their back story actually was.
A major issue that In Waiting presented was its glorification of suicide. Suicide was equated to “pulling out a tooth that’s been annoying you” which is an unacceptable trivialization of suicide. It appeared that suicide was being treated as a relief, and the play barely scraped the surface of mental illness and struggles with depression during its two and a half hours.
With this dangerous portrayal of suicide and the lack of content warnings, I would strongly advise viewers who may be struggling with their own mental illness to avoid this show. While Monsted is right to question taboos or the avoidance of subjects, this was a reckless, if not denigrating, attitude towards the audience. In Waiting instead played up the real effects of suicide for the shock factor that it brings the play. It was a superficial and dangerous look at this important issue.
The grave misrepresentation of the struggle with mental illness was a troubling aspect of the production. The writing did not give any weight to the intense mental struggles that come prior to suicide or give any clear lead up. While suicide can appear as a surprise, for the most part mental health is a long ongoing battle which tragically can lead to that devastating outcome.
One character in the production was treated as a therapist for all of those who were stuck in waiting. She was presented as their salvation and their only hope to get out of this existential limbo. This became less and less effective as a plot device as the play went on. Some characters were simply able to speak about their problems and suddenly their issues were resolved. Not only did this misrepresent therapy, but avoided any engagement with character or plot development. There is no quick fix to mental illness and it appears that that is what the play is suggesting.
Not only was this play structurally bereft, but the writing was leaned on clichés. One of the final dramatic moments of the piece, where the tension had been building to was followed by the line “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” There was a tangible slump in the audience as they sighed, cringing at the line.
With such a dialogue heavy production, clunky writing such as this example took its toll on the audience. While absurdism is renowned for not having a clear plot or much action, what drives the timeless absurdist classics is the quick dialogue and characterisation. This play lacked both.
In Waiting is unoriginal, offensive and uninteresting. It’s on until October 19.