Showbusiness, September 1973
The family is found at that moment when the threats are more remembered than pressing, and there is the possibility for working over them and even understanding them, in quietness. But it is difficult to face the past without welling up into sentimentalism or bitterness, and neither help understanding. The play is largely poised about this moment of waiting to understand and then goes on to present the procrastinations and events that steal the opportunity away forever. So it leaves you, through its finely controlled dramatic understatement, somehow slightly bereft and yet in the possession of a knowledge that doesn't bear being dragged into a critical light and dissected ... these interruptive and alternate scenes, and the ultimate effect of the intrusions seems to be a forcing away from the details of the play to its social issues.
Kenna forces into consciousness the almost criminal stupidity of a rigidly Catholic doctrinal program for living ... Only Dan and Aggie's pragmatic and human version of their faith, which comprehends and can live with Martin's reflection that it is indeed 'A Hard God' we're dealing with ... survives as anything like a possible way of dealing with reality.
Bulletin, 15 September 1973
You could say that
is no more and no less than about ordinary people's relationships with themselves and with others; in
A Hard God
Mr Kenna's new maturity has been able to add relationships with conscience, with spirit and with a God ...
It is a profoundly experimental play ... It seems for a start like two plays running in parallel. But in the end it serves to mingle together past, present and future - the nostalgic reminiscences of the older generation somehow link up with the present circumstances of the two young boys; the hopes for the future of the boys connect with the present lot of the older generation. A sense of cycles and seasons pervades the piece ...
The God is indeed a hard God. But for those who accept his burden of pain there is finally strength and comfort. Only the mother revolts against him and denies him. And in the end as the play fades into darkness she is left there utterly alone at the dawn of an unspeakable anguish of ultimate incomprehension and despair. As an allegory of our times that moment can claim to be one of the most deeply moving statements in contemporary art.
Sydney Morning Herald, September 1973
... As the play progresses we have the meaningless, intolerable disasters - a death by accident, the break-up of a marriage, Dan's increasingly ominous eye trouble -which throw into relief the main theme of the play, the mysterious ways of the 'hard God' to whom they are bound.
That this is the main theme becomes clearer as the second strand of the play nears its denoument - a teenage Cassidy boy's love affir with a handsome schoolmate, Jack Shannon; Shannon's guilt and renunciation of his friend; the boy's renunciation of the church which condemns feelings he holds to be pure.
You may feel there is thematic material here to make several plays. There is... For too long the play wanders... and matters are not improved by the drawn out agonisings of the two adolescent boys, one (we know form the programme) a Cassidy, but otherwise in no way linked to the family until the very end. This lack of linkage is at present a serious weakness.
Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 1982
... (This) is a production to compet re-evaluation - yet again - of a play of tingling humanity that stands four-square with
The One Day of the Year
as one of the three achievements of Australian realistic drama.
I use realism only as a convenient term of classification, as with O'Neill's best plays. In the theatre its quasi-symphonic development of resounding themes - time, chance and change, Christian faith and human fortitudes, town and country, age and youth, the famil as prison and santuary - transcend reportage...
, 6 December 1975 (on a BBC Radio broadcast of
A Hard God
... One may judge a play, among other ways, by how it crosses chasms and I suppose there is none wider nor deeper than the treatment of teenage homosexuality. With this as test, Mr Kenna passed brilliantly; all his characterisation was good, but his account of the relationship between these two young men was really masterly. He conveyed at once the passion, the self-doubt and remorse, the wilful infliction of pain, the oscillations between joy and despair.
, 20-25 March 1978. (on the production of
The Cassidy Album
, Adelaide Festival 1978)
... The production of
A Hard God
reinforces its status as a key work in the Australian repertoire ... it confronts and defines basic elements of our inheritance within a realistic frame.
Journalists can tell us what we are, historians can explain what we are, but only dramatists can thrust our chromosomes on the womb of the stage and bring them into being as dynamic actions; our myths are foetal unless they're enacted ...
The final decline of expectation is the main current of the play, while running beside it is a tributary of a more subtle and complex kind; Aggie's son Joe's steadily developing attachment to his friend Jack Shannon. One of Kenna's many achievements is the way the flow of this emotional force is made to swell, baffle and grow again. As life dries up for the older generation on centre stage, it saps and buds with the two boys at the side.
... (the characters) have flesh and spirit, though forces physical and psychological wage relentless war on both, and they have the power of generality-all of us have in some way experienced their pilgrimage-from bush to city, from city to bewilderment and failure, and from failure to hammering against the marbled outlines of the hard god.
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