play thirty eight: black medea

The Canadian premiere at Obsidian Theatre.
The Canadian premiere at Obsidian Theatre.

Author: Wesley Enoch

Published: 2007

Synopsis: “Black Medea is Wesley Enoch’s richly poetic adaptation of Euripides’ Medea. Blending the cultures of Ancient Greek and Indigenous storytelling, Enoch weaves a commentary on contemporary Aboriginal experience.” (Synopsis taken from here).

What moved me: The brilliance of this work is the deftness with which Enoch has insinuated the Medea narrative into the indigenous Australian landscape. Just as Medea helped Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece, so here does Medea help her love gain mining access to the ancient land of which her community act as guardians.

I also loved the space Enoch creates for the theatre-makers to enter into this work, with significant chunks of text given in images instead of speech.

Also, the vastness of this image:

MEDEA: I had a dream. I dreamt I was staring into the desert and felt I would never be alone. In this dream my mother’s standing there smiling, her hair playing in the wind. She doesn’t say anything, she looks at me with a quiet smile. Beside her stands my grandmother. She looks just like my mother only she’s got more history in her face. Her hair’s tied back. This woman of law and language, standing ankle deep in the sand. Behind her another woman, looking at me, I can see my reflection in her eyes. She looks familiar. Her skin’s dark and weathered. Beside her another woman, and another and another, and then I can see an ocean of women stretching back out into the desert, stretching out to the horizon making the sand dark…standing facing me, looking to me.

play thirty: brothers wreck

The fantastic Ms Alberts.
The fantastic Ms Alberts.

Author: Jada Alberts

Published: 2014

Synopsis: A Darwin family try to deal with their grief as it ripples out from the most recent death in their community. Young Ruben, Joe, and Jarrod had a good thing going with their patched up fishing boat, the Front Yard Challenge. Disaster strikes even harder, then, when Joe decides to kill himself. Ruben is unable to shake his sense of responsibility for Joe’s decision and it takes a great coming together of his family to not let his grief chew him and spit him out as nothing but sad bones.

What moved me: I heard Chris Mead speak recently about the importance of understanding dramaturgy more dynamically than we currently do – that we should think of it as the membrane of a living organism rather than as a slab of meat that can be sectioned into plot, character, themes, etc.

Reading ‘Brothers Wreck’ immediately brought this image of an organism to mind. This play is a living, breathing beast, a working muscle pumping blood that is covered in a fine membrane of grief, grief which also shoots its roots (or tentacles) down into the beast itself. I had to wrestle with this text. I know Darwin – the sticky air, and the people who have had to deal with death every day of their lives. As I read, I cried, in sadness but also in wonder at how alive it was, at its vitality, at its youth and its sad-bone-weariness. Alberts made the strength of the “skin-ship system” of the play beat as steady as a heart and made me long to be part of something with such a close weave.

play twenty nine: moth

Declan.
Declan.

Author: Declan Greene

Published: 2010

Synopsis: Sebastian and Claryssa live on the lowest rung of the high school ladder. Both 15, their friendship (perhaps by default, perhaps by choice) mitigates their unlovability. Something’s wrong with Sebastian, though. He keeps coughing up blood. It’s up to Claryssa to work out how loneliness and the cruelty of youth have unravelled their lives and forced them apart.

What moved me: what struck me about this work was my constant awareness that I empathised with but did not like these two teens, something which I’m not sure I’ve experienced before. My awareness was prompted by  Kohn’s Currency Press introduction, in which he writes that “I think writers, directors and actors can spend too much time worrying about the likeability of their characters. We don’t need to like anyone on stage to be gripped by their world. Integrity of purpose, authenticity of voice and identification will win out every time.” It made me aware of the lack of value in this binary. It’s about as useful as any of us wondering if we are liked, or not liked. It’s the epidermis, the first layer of protective skin that stops us burrowing deeper.

Lesson learnt.

play twenty eight: love me tender

love me tenderAuthor: Tom Holloway

Published: 2010

Synopsis: Father is a fire-fighter, the local hero, and his youngest daughter has just been born. His love for her is unlike any other kind of love – deep, long, protective – but as she heads towards adolescence he has to confront how our hyper-sexual culture is forcing young girls to grow up fast. All this in the midst of the gods’ wrath, who’ve stopped the wind and made the forests burn, forcing him to choose what sacrifice he is willing to live with.

What moved me: My familiarity with the Iphigenia myth upon which this work is based allowed me to see the full extent to which Holloway had allowed it to be infected by an Australian sensibility. Athena’s refusal to allow the wind to blow and so release the Greek fleet on its way to Troy is our craze-inducing heat in which we wait with baited breath for the first fire of the season to break. The fire-fighter is our Agamemnon, who we look to when we need to be saved (and who is an unimpeachable archetype of Australian masculinity).

I also loved the dilation of Holloway’s language. Every scene unravels as a layer of images slathered upon each other – we think it is one thing, but then it becomes another, and another, and another, until we almost stop trying to assume we understand what we are seeing and wait to be told.

play nineteen: the dark room

The Light Room. (Belvoir's production of The Dark Room, 2011).
The Light Room. (Belvoir’s production of The Dark Room, 2011).

Author: Angela Betzien

Published: 2009

Synopsis: A deep night in a hotel room somewhere in the Northern Territory spans time and space to show how six lost souls encounter and mark each other irrevocably.

What moved me: the quality of tension Betzien creates in her work. The image that springs to mind is that moment in the action blockbuster when the bad guy has fallen off the side of a building and has grabbed onto the good guy’s hand to pull him down with him. The tension in this work is that hand grip – a life and death struggle centred in a bunched fist.

I also had an incredibly visceral reaction to the decision to lock down the space of the playworld. The three sets of duologues all occur in the same space – it’s the same room after all – but they intercut and overflow into each other. All the characters are in the same room in a way that allows us to suspend our understanding of conventional time passing and instead focus on the extent to which we imprint ourselves onto our collective sense of place.