I made the mistake of rereading Peter Goldsworthy’s 1993 novella before seeing Steve Rodgers’ adaptation of Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam at Belvoir St Theatre, so I knew the play’s advertised surprise ending and may have been resistant to its emotional charge. At its première production for National Theatre of Parramatta at the Riverside Theatre in 2018, it was said to reduce audiences to tears. Some audience members could be seen wiping their eyes after the opening night performance at Belvoir.
The novella sets up a rather hypothetical situation, where a symmetrically perfect family of four is confronted with the random tragedy of a fatal disease. Dispassionately, Goldsworthy depicts these stereotypical suburban parents, so absorbed in family love (a form of self-love, after all) that they lose any sense of an outside world. The narrative voice being cool, careful not to develop too much sympathy for its characters, it leaves the central ethical question open.