[ASC-list] SYDNEY: call for readers, Syphilis play

John August johna at babel.apana.org.au
Mon Aug 18 13:48:59 UTC 2008

Hi All,

In a few weeks time - Friday 5th of September at this stage - I'm planning to
participate in the reading of a play on Syphilis at the Tap Gallery.  (
http://www.tapgallery.org.au/ ) See the attached blurb.  Science
communication from times long past.  If you're interested joining us as a
reader, please get in touch.  There are about 11 different characters.  If
you can't join us as a reader, I hope you'll be able to join us in the
audience on the day.


John August.


Damaged Goods, By Brieux - A play reading at the Tap Gallery, Darlinghurst

In the early 1900's a French play, Damaged Goods, was performed in Sydney and
Melbourne.  This play had been banned in Paris, but the forces of censorship
acted in reverse to what you might think.  This long lost play made a mark in
our history, and has been re-discovered by the Tap Gallery for a one day
reading - at this stage, planned for Friday 5th September.

For this was the time of syphilis; doctors and priests joined together to
fight a common cause.  Sexual behaviour was discussed more openly than ever
before, and for a brief window of time the world became just a little more
open, a little more enlightened.  The Argus newspaper in Melbourne was the
first non-medical publication in the world to call the disease by name - not
the 'specific disease', the 'social disease', the 'red plague' or the 'social
evil' - but rather its medical name - syphilis.

It was an age whose significance is lost to us - the time before we had HIV /
AIDS, but society nevertheless had to wrestle with both itself and a silent,
invisible invader which respected no social lines and opened up moral
contradictions for all to see.

For Syphilis too, was fatal at one stage, and was then difficult to treat;
the Arsenic based drug Salvarsan, also known as Arsphenamine or even "606",
was in short supply.  Opportunists stockpiled it and the original
manufacturer was accused of profiteering.  Salvarsan, for those lucky,
wealthy or well-connected enough to obtain it, was, indeed ...  salvation.

"Damaged Goods" was written in 1901 (a time even before Salvarsan).  It is
set in Paris and is a time capsule from this forgotten past, whose echoes
nevertheless resonate today.  Here, we witness the adventures of George, who
has tragically caught the disease, but is also engaged to be married, and one
day visits his doctor.  We see his domineering, self- assured father in law,
who must look within himself to realise that that the hand of fate is
arbitrary, operating without fear or favour on anyone.  And then there's
George's wife Henriette and daughter, who are caught in the crossfire.

We see the social contradictions of the time, as people struggle to deal with
the world around them, wringing their hands and passing judgement on others,
reflecting on blame, fate, justice and guilt.  We see a parade of the
dispossessed, and witness the systemic injustice of the time.  We watch a
doctor who must make his own difficult ethical judgements as he struggles to
keep the threads from unravelling further.  Yes, we've come a long way since

... But how far, really ?

"Damaged Goods" is a play with its own unique power and significance, and the
Tap Gallery, rather than hosting a full production, invites you to a reading
of this play for one night only.

Journey with us back to Paris a century past, and witness the world that was,
the reality of its moral struggle and contradictions.  

And perhaps also, pause to reflect on our on.

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