By Clare BlumerNovember 16, 2012
Amid tragic fallout from the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’, a Sydney playwright saw comic potential — in the porn past of the film’s director.
In September this year a 15-minute YouTube trailer for a film called Innocence of Muslims was broadcast in Egypt and then, suddenly, shared around the world. The repercussions were catastrophic; scores of deaths and hundreds of injuries. The film portrayed the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a philanderer, rapist and murderer; the fallout included the death of the United States ambassador to Libya and violent protests worldwide, including in Sydney.
The following month, raids on a terrorist cell in Indonesia were linked to backlash against Innocence of Muslims. The film’s director went into hiding, and its writer-producer, a man known by a series of aliases, was thrown in jail for unrelated crimes.
Meanwhile a small, apparently defiant, Sydney theatre company was well into rehearsals for a play inspired by the film. Despite his runaway status, the past of Innocence of Muslims director was not hard to find — he had previously made porn films, as playwright CJ Johnson soon discovered. This piece of information, says Johnson, opened the way for a theatrical comedy.
Griffin Theatre, a company known for producing new Australian work, agreed. Theatrical director Tim Roseman’s ‘Rapid Write’ concept — to write, rehearse and premiere a new play in just eight weeks — looks for topical material to respond to current events. Griffin called for pitches to the top playwrights in the country and decided on Johnson’s.
Johnson’s play is called Hollywood Ending, Or How a Washed-Up Director Made a Crappy Movie that Almost Destroyed the World. Griffin touts the show as “a wickedly satirical, wildly untrue account of the most controversial film of the year — a piece of atrociously written propaganda that provoked religious rage across the world”.
The play’s dramaturg, Lee Lewis, is also the incoming artistic director of Griffin Theatre. She says the creative team discussed at length whether it was too risky to perform a work on such a contentious topic — a comedy that springs from this painfully bad film which sparked real and tragic consequences.
“It would have been very easy to choose another play,” says Lewis. “But if you’re going to write a play about what’s happening at the moment, how could you ignore that?”
She says the play (that will run from November 21 to December 15) concerns the big ethical question that sits at the heart of this social comedy: “How far are you willing to compromise your artistic ideals in order to pay your rent cheque?”