[THEATRE] HOMO PENTECOSTUS @ Malthouse Theatre Review (2024)

What did I know about Pentecostalism when I entered the Malthouse Theatre? Little to nothing, save for a few colourful stories about Hillsong.

Suffice to say, it is a charismatic Protestant movement, which is subject to much scrutiny in the no holds barred offering Homo Pentecostus.

Co-creators (with Emma Valente) and performers Joel Bray and Peter Paltos were members of the church and dissect its teachings and practices in intimate detail.

The first thing worth noting is that they were in an environment that is profoundly homophobic, so navigating that path is far from straight forward.

Both talk about their gay awakening – how and when that happened.

The Pentecostal movement is seen through a spiritual prism of good and bad, presented as an ongoing battle between angelic and demonic forces.

In Homo Pentecostus that plays out through an extended PowerPoint presentation of increasingly “vile” sins, during which we – the audience – are also called to account.

The highly controversial practice of conversion therapy is also dealt with.

Music is an integral part of Pentecostalism, with disco alive and well, as the artistes bump and grind. I should mention here that we are immersed in the 1990s.

Outpourings of emotion are evident throughout the richly physical show, during which the performers repeatedly break the fourth wall.

It is a welcoming environment … at least initially, when we are offered tea with a wide variety of milk choices as we enter the theatre.

Thereafter, we are greeted by warm “hellos” from the actors, which represents how the Pentecostal church goes about its business.

Then, we are asked to shout out what we associate with the church.

This is a movement that speaks in tongues (which we also get to see and hear) and has awakenings. For instance, Paltos is baptised and also fills the role of a Minister.

Bray and Paltos question each other throughout the 75 minute offering about everything from their belief system to psychic readings and confessionals.

How they came to leave the church is also covered.

Particularly striking is how the pair lets off steam, with dozens of pristine and perfectly ordered, white, plastic chairs flung about in a captivating frenzy.

In fact, there is no shortage of shock value in the show, with Bray brazenly parading around naked for an extended time, while the finale is a dress up spectacle.

Changes in tone and texture through lighting and sound add weight to the overall impact of the production.

While informed by the creators’ own stories, Homo Pentecostus is not strictly autobiographical. It has fictionalised elements.

I thought it was a highly creative, invigorating and enlightening piece of interactive theatre – a walk on the wild side and a grand cacophony of ideas.

It unfolds with humour, heart and pathos.

Bray and Paltos are consummate, natural performers who give their all. The piece benefits greatly from their freewheeling stagecraft. Co-directed by Joel Bray and co-creator Emma Valente, it is playing at Beckett Theatre at Malthouse Theatre until 25th May, 2024.

Review by Alex First Photography by Gianna Rizzo