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 seven: the spirits play

Kuo Pao Kun is often acknowledged as the pioneer of Singaporean theatre.
Kuo Pao Kun is often acknowledged as the pioneer of Singaporean theatre.

Author: Kuo Pao Kun

Published: 1998

Translator: C.J.W.L.Lee and Lee Chee Keng

Synopsis: Five Japanese spirits – a General, a Man, a Mother, a Girl and a Poet – recall their life experience in the Second World War. They are collectively thrown into turmoil in the process of recollection and recall, and in their wish to “make sense” of the war and its atrocities inflicted upon them, not only by the enemy but also by their own government and army.

What moved me: Many things moved me about this work, least of all the bolt of shock when I realised the freedom that comes with the representation of spirits onstage. Although they will ultimately by tied by the corporeality of the performer, it allows the easy transcendence of time and space, as well as other limitations that come with liveness.

As an example, this stage direction:

The series of questions shock the Mother, the Man, the Girl and the Poet, first into stillness; then the stillness turns into severe trembling – finally leading them to emit an almost animalistic cry – as if their inner souls have been stirred and a long-locked beast of the wild is finally unleashed. Instinctively, impulsively, they begin to undress, revealing bodies painted in primal, savage colours. They all look the same. Tattoos bear individual designs of a unified primitive style.

They show a lightness like spirits, an awesomeness like ghosts, an honesty like children, a savagery like beasts. And their personalities have been reduced to a basic commonality of primal instinct.

The devastating image of a woman looking for her husband amongst the many thousand skeletons and, failing to find him, committing a funeral ceremony for each collection of bones.

play thirty four: hippolytus

Phaedra, please.
Phaedra, please.

Author: Euripides

Published: 428BC

Translator: Anne Carson

Synopsis: Aphrodite is furious for Hippolytus’ refusal of her power and his avowal of chastity to the goddess Artemis. She curses him by forcing his stepmother, Phaedra, to fall in love with him. Phaedra wishes to kill herself to be released from this illicit burden but her nurse is convinced she may swear Hippolytus to secrecy and make him understand. She fails, and Phaedra kills herself when she overhears the disgust of her stepson. She leaves a note claiming to have been raped by Hippolytus so that he may not reveal her desire to his father Theseus. Theseus finds the note and banishes his son, calling on his father Poseidon to kill him. Poseidon does so by calling out a sea monster to frighten Hippolytus’ horses and drag him to his death. Hippolytus’ dying body is brought to Theseus and Artemis appears to reveal Aphrodite’s trick. Theseus seeks his son’s forgiveness as he dies in his arms.

What moved me: What I love about this work is the mortality of its gods. Aphrodite is the queen of sass and Artemis might be a frosty librarian and both are equally governed by human desires. They experience the desire for power over others just as we do and are subject to the pettiness of rivalry, the pangs of longing, and the sweetness and bitterness of grief.

play thirty one: babyteeth

Milla and Moses.
Milla and Moses.

Author: Rita Kalnejais

Published: 2012

Synopsis: Teenage Milla is dying of cancer when she strikes up a friendship at Central Train Station with Moses, a junkie who helps stop her nose bleed. Their flowering relationship is watched with apprehension by her parents Anna and Henry, who have their own problems with substance abuse. Ultimately, he can pose no great threat in these final months, and we watch as those in Milla’s orbit try to deal with her imminent absence.

What moved me: strangely, in this deeply moving work it was the food that moved me most. Attention is drawn to the figs ripening on the windowsill so we notice that time is running out. There is a moment where Anna – this highly-strung, very-lost mother – chokes on sausage rind, and another where she peels a boiled egg very carefully before smashing it into her mouth whole. There’s something about the irrationality of grief – the arbitrariness of what it throws into relief – that strikes a chord with these brightly-lit moments.

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.