Posts Tagged ‘the mountaintop

17
Feb
17

Single Asian Female

 

Single Asian Female

La Boite Theatre Company

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

February 11 – March 4 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

things have to change…

Single Asian Female gives a voice to the voiceless and talks about race and gender in ways we often don’t.

– Director, Claire Christian

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Single. Asian. Female. It’s a joke because, remember the film? But it’s no joke that the truths shared in Michelle Law’s searingly honest and delightfully funny debut are instantly, regrettably, familiar to us. Of course, a lifetime of being on the receiving end means the racial slurs and assumptions to which this piece gives voice and context, are more familiar to some than others. It’s a timely, nicely conceived work, bold and furious and funny, and while it can do with a more discerning dramaturgical touch, on its first outing Single Asian Female wins the open hearts and minds of audiences and artists. Like Future D. Fidel’s unforgettable Prize Fighter, Law’s contemporary timeless story, inspired by aspects of her own, will rightly take its place in this country’s canon of works; it’s not only highly entertaining and moving, but also, another opportunity to open up our performance spaces and school curriculum to people of colour.

La Boite is employing all the colours, telling all the stories. 

I read something about someone wanting to get rid of a particular story. But why would anyone feel the need to do that? Acts of destruction waste so much energy. Challenging and questioning the dominant myth may be useful, but losing it from the conversation altogether? Not so much. It’s true that some stories are lost along the way, but they’re eventually uncovered, or remembered, or replaced by another version that has the same substance and soul message. This is why we persist with telling them, writing them down, putting them on the stage and screen… Isn’t it vital to keep the stories, to share them and not destroy them or discard them just because someone suddenly decides they don’t appear to be relevant to a particular group of people? The stories are another group’s stories. It doesn’t mean they have no value for you, and it certainly doesn’t mean they were created with an intent to offend or to bury any other stories past, present or future, it simply means they’ve come from someone else in another place at a particular time and you have the choice, always, to recognise any value in them from your unique personal and cultural perspective. And to continue to contribute your own version of events. Go on, get creating rather than destroying.

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Let’s keep all the stories and concentrate our efforts on contributing more stories. Stories are for sharing. So we hold space for all of them. There is enough space.

This production, this story, is another hammer, which La Boite rightly prides itself on wielding (this company too, sans hashtag, is all about leading from Queensland) and it will go a long way in continuing to shape our shared reality. 

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These are the stories that are with us and amongst us.

– La Boite Theatre Company Artistic Director, Todd MacDonald

There’s nothing to fault in the wonderful, easeful performances of the three leading ladies, each a fiercely “strong woman”, firm in her resolve to thrive, and funny in her unapologetically wry take on so many situations, which we find equally appalling and amusing. Director, Claire Christian, gives each situation to us straight, trusting the source and allowing her actors to play with the material, resulting in some of the sharpest, most original comedy of the year.

Lana: WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR EYES? THEY LOOK HUGE.

Mei: OH … THANK YOU.

In a complex and appropriately cluttered and homely, surprisingly functional multi-level space designed by Moe Assad and lit by Keith Clark, the women revolve around each other and their Golden Phoenix Chinese Restaurant (amusingly, for long-term Sunshine Coast residents, located in Nambour, but it could be anywhere), which will bring about either fortune or disaster in the end. La Boite feels as festive as ever, with Chinese lanterns hanging in the foyer and the red carpet rolled out for opening night. There’s even cabaret style restaurant seating available inside the theatre so some audience members really get to feel a part of the action, a clever, inclusive design element. We delight in picking up our tickets (for the tiered section) encased in a shiny red and gold embossed envelope before the show, and cracking open our fortune cookies after it. 

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The Wong family women are real to me because they were inspired by people I know: generous, assertive, resilient women who hold the world on their shoulders.

– Writer, Michelle Law

Alex Lee’s Zoe is a superb realisation of the eldest daughter, harnessing the extreme emotions of a young, talented, ambitious creative soul suffering from anxiety, having yet to secure a place in the world outside of her mother’s realm and representing not just Asian young adults but every young woman everywhere. I’d love to see Lee’s solo show sometime – how could I not? It’s called I’m Eating Peanut Butter In The Shower Because I’m Sad And You’e Not The Boss of Me. Lee is a delight.

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Courtney Stewart’s Mei is the younger, impressionable and eternally frustrated, just-wanna-finish-school-and-go-to-the-formal eye rolling second child, on the verge of finding out for herself the truth about her father’s character and her own. (Interestingly, this dad is unseen and painted as the devil, having selfishly, callously caused every problem faced by the family). Stewart was an inspired inclusion in last year’s developmental showing of Soi Cowboy, a commissioned Brisbane Powerhouse production, which we’re sure to hear more about this year. 

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Hsiao-Ling Tang is an ideal Pearl with her frantic gestures juxtaposed against complete stillness (a sense of the sacred self knowledge coming up against the contemporary overculture’s unachievable expectations), her stubborn use of Chinglish and her insistence that shoes be taken off inside the house (and that Chinese snacks be available to friends during study group – how embarrassing – hilarious). Her tiger mother bouts of intense frustration and raw anger at something unseen prompt us to sit up in surprise and sadness and awe before settling back into a place between laughter and tears (of recognition, sympathy, empathy), when she finally reveals the secret that could be the family’s undoing… Tang will appear later in the year in the world premiere of Michele Lee’s Rice, the winner of the Queensland Premier’s 2016 Drama Award, another must-see.

These women, as if they’d been working together for some time already, convey genuine affection and concern for each other. The connections are real, making their stories completely relatable, regardless of our cultural background, a fly-on-the-wall shared experience. Such a magical thing, live theatre…

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Emily Burton is perhaps the most endearing performer I’ve seen on a Brisbane stage (Dash Kruck and Tom Oliver up there also). I adore her, and much more so when she’s perfectly cast, as she is here, as Mei’s lanky, daggy, wannabe Asian misfit friend, Katie. She’s got a bohemian willowy geeky tomboy cosplay comical sad panda thing going on and it works superbly as a foil to mean girl Lana’s constant digs, and Mei’s reluctant rebelliousness and her insecurities about who she thinks she wants to be. A scene in which we see Mei trapped between Katie’s longstanding friendship and Lana’s passive aggressive popularity test is so uncomfortable to watch; it’s probably stingingly familiar to most of us if we’re honest, as is Mei’s choice in the moment and Katie’s reaction. Like similar moments, it could be overplayed but Burton finds a balance between the truth of the character and the tragicomedy of the situation.

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Patrick Jhanur is just gorgeous as Paul. His gentleness though, his subtleties (and some of his words), are at risk of becoming lost in the noise and pace of the women’s world. This is quite probably a deliberate thing and will be more astutely balanced/managed as the season continues. The self conscious banter between he and Zoe is delightful, making us squirm and giggle and smile, and hope that everything will work out for these two. But is this character just the token male, included as a woman might be, to fit that space in a play populated with men, penned by a man? I don’t think so. As we see during a discussion about the chance to have a child, with vulnerability and a tenderness not always afforded a male character, Jhanur steps up for this role, and perhaps there is simply, gradually, a little more flesh to be added to its bones. 

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Emily Vascotto has vibrant, wicked, gleeful Isla Fischer/Lizzie Moore energy and if you don’t know our Lizzie Moore, you really ought to get out…more. A real-life red-headed Bratz Doll, Vascotto embodies the type I’d warn my daughter about, as in, keep your friends close and keep that one closer. With less experience on stage than the other girls but with no less sass, Vascotto walks a fine comical line between being immediately recognisable and so much larger than life that we lose sight of who Lana really is. I think she’ll settle into this role during the season and certainly, will do so without the vignettes involving her character losing any momentum. At least, let’s hope not, with some momentum lacking on opening night. (I think we accept that this is typical of an opening night performance and later, we’re unsurprised by reports of a cracking pace). The occasional lag seems due to The Family Law style episodic structure, each chapter landing with an unapologetically political or moral thud. Like, BOOM. It’s never too much but it’s almost too much at once; it’s almost overwhelming, but then, the reality is that life IS overwhelming. There IS this much blatant racism to deal with in this country, every day. We have ALL of these issues to consider, and more. 

One has to write what one sees, what one feels, truthfully, sincerely.

– Anton Chekhov

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To finish with Tina Arena’s Chains is such a great gimmick (and these girls can really sing it!), but it’s not my favourite closing number. I feel we should be singing along with something…upbeat. Karaoke is gold and if you promise it you need to deliver on it, just as the slinky has its moment on the stairs. (Gun. Bang. Etcetera.)

In the spirit of the current trend to make a short show a good show, it’s worth noting that a discerning dramaturg might take a red pen to the text, make more efficient use of the more stylised moments (a raw, real look at online dating and the daughters’ stories being taken into account by the end), and make it a 90-minute no-interval knockout…but think about that. Would we have quite as much to digest or to discuss? Would we feel as deeply about any of the characters without the time to meander through their world with them? The rich texture of this tale is in its detail and while I’d often prefer to get home earlier (but I know, it’s so interesting to stay for speeches too, so I usually do), by the same token I’d love to see the full length production, as it stands, return with yum cha at interval and actual karaoke afterwards. In fact, let’s make the food together. It’s perfect festival fare.

In the meantime, don’t miss seeing Michelle Law’s personal-universal play just the way it is, at La Boite’s Roundhouse. Don’t miss the opportunity to take part in our nation’s most pressing conversation. Don’t miss being part of the cultural change, the global shift; the impetus behind powerful art and empowered people.

 

Single Asian Female is the baton being passed on. Don’t drop it or decline to take it. Don’t be a dickhead. Don’t be that (white) guy.

 

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22
Mar
15

The 7 Stages of Grieving

 

The 7 Stages of Grieving

QTC and Grin & Tonic

Bille Brown Studio

March 17 – 31 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Time is linear and irreversible.

 

 

Everything has its time…

 

 

Indigenous history has been a long and complicated grieving process since colonisation.

Wesley Enoch

 

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The 7 Phases of Aboriginal History – The 5 Stages of Dying

 

Dreaming

 

Denial

 

Invasion

 

Isolation

 

Genocide

 

Anger

 

Protection

 

Bargaining

 

Assimilation

 

Depression

 

Self Determination

 

Acceptance

 

Reconciliation

 

 

We cry together, we laugh together, and we tell our stories.

 

 

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The Grin & Tonic Theatre Troupe has forged a brilliant relationship with our state theatre company, and testament to their determination to jointly bring Australian Indigenous stories to the stage; this production is a fine one. The 7 Stages of Grieving, penned by Deborah Mailman and QTC’s Artistic Director, Wesley Enoch, enjoys its 20th year in 2015. This strictly limited (very nearly sold out) GreenHouse season is followed by a tour, which takes the show on the road and into schools. I’m looking forward to seeing it again, at Matthew Flinders Anglican College. It will be interesting to hear from the students, who’ll be viewing it through Brecht coloured glasses, and who obviously didn’t see the original Kooemba Jdarra productions, directed by Enoch and starring Mailman, in 1994 (a 25-minute version for the Shock of the New festival at La Boite) and in 1995 (at Metro Arts as part of Warana, which became Brisbane Festival). The show then toured nationally and internationally.

 

 

I remember Mailman’s sweet, deep-seated sadness, and her wicked humour, cutting unforgivingly through deceptively simple episodic storytelling. History’s a sinister thing, isn’t it? Those who tell it create it, and we can be grateful that this play gives voice to some of the lesser-told stories. Or perhaps I should say, lesser heard. I’ll compare productions only so far as to say that it was simpler then – low-tech – and also, Mailman’s power on stage was already astonishing. We experienced her expansiveness, as if her spirit filled not only the intimate Metro Arts space, but also the entire universe. Experiencing Mailman’s performance in this show was like reaching that state of meditation that allows you to see without seeing, and understand more than you feel you’ve ever been allowed to know.

 

 

The only thing black at a funeral should be the colour of your skin.

 

 

Chenoa Deemal (Mother Courage and Her Children) is the Aboriginal Everywoman who brings a fresh, light approach to the storytelling; it’s a completely new take, as it should be. She studied acting at ACPA and QUT, but comes from the Thitharr Warra tribe in Hopevale, north of Cooktown in the Cape York Peninsula. The language we hear is Deemal’s language and the traditional elements of this production are her people’s traditions.

 

 

Deemal takes centre stage after emerging from the darkness to pour concentric circles of rainbow coloured sand, its phosphorescence glowing eerily, discomfortingly, around a mound of red earth (the land, the source, the spirit, the core of everything) and a suitcase containing the photos of family members who have died. It’s poignant, it’s ritualistic, and the irony and deep sorrow is never lost, only veiled in more comical moments throughout the show. Deemal’s casual comedy shines in Nana’s Story (no matter what you were having for dinner there was always rice), and in Murri Gets a Dress, delivered in stand up comedy style, complete with a hand held microphone. Audience members on opening night shriek with laughter.

 

 

Have you ever been black? You know when you wake up one morning and you’re black? …”Hey, nice hair, beautiful black skin, white shiny teeth … I’m BLACK!

 

 

… I go to bed thinking, “Tomorrow will be a better day”, snuggling up to my doona and pillow. Morning comes; I wake up, I go to the bathroom. I look in the mirror. Hey, nice hair, beautiful black skin, white shiny teeth. I’M STILL BLACK! AND DEADLY!

 

 

Not 20 minutes in something gets me, though I can’t for the life of me recall what it is that sparks the tears, which I blink back, not wanting to miss the next chapter in this stark, raw look at our First People’s mourning traditions and daily struggles. Despite some business as usual moments, which could just as easily be perceived as inspired acting/directing choices, Deemal offers a natural, vulnerable, very real performance. There is grief and there is joy, which wells up and spills over into fierce pride and exultation during a vivid retelling of Sorry Day celebrations.

 

 

Oi. Hey, you! Don’t you be waving back at me! Yeh, you with that hat! You can’t park here, eh! You’re taking up the whole bloody harbour! Just get in your boat and go. Go on, get! Bloody boat people.

 

 

Director (and Artistic Director of Grin & Tonic), Jason Klarwein, has manipulated mood and meaning beautifully, assembling a terrific creative team to bring this 20-year old show up to date in bold cinematic style. Jessica Ross (Designer), Daniel Anderson (Lighting Designer) and Justin Harrison (Sound & Projection Designer) have created a galaxy of stars and souls and memories and words and hopes and dreams, and a sense of place that is both new and ancient. With its updated political references, and a new ending to raise the stakes, The 7 Stages of Grieving strikes me as The Mountaintop of Australian plays, asking us to consider what really matters, and challenging us to make the changes we want to see in our world.

 

 

They’ve written sorry …

 

 

… They’ve written sorry across the sky.

 

 

Are you walking across bridges yet? The baton passes on …

 

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03
Mar
14

The Mountaintop

 

The Mountaintop

Queensland Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

February 22 – March 16 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

The baton passes on.

 

A rainy April night in Memphis, 1968 – and Dr Martin Luther King Jr doesn’t know it, but it will be his last night on earth. Wearied but resolute after his years-long march at the head of the Civil Rights Movement, the preacher checks into room 306 at the modest Lorraine Motel.

 

Before the sun sets again, he will be shot and killed. 

 

Candy Bowers and Pacharo Mzembe. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll

 

I saw MTC’s production of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop last year and was struck by the magic created by the actors in that production, Bert LaBonte and Zahra Newman, who had been paired after appearing on stage together a few times already. There I saw the show at the end of the season and here I saw opening night of QTC’s production, directed by the company’s Associate Director, Todd MacDonald, starring a new pair, Pacharo Mzembe and Candy Bowers. By the end of the season these two are going to be magnificent; in fact from about 15 minutes in they are pretty damn good! However, it took that long for Mzembe to look really comfortable as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the man; the sinner. When Camae, the flirtatious maid (another self-proclaimed sinner), stepped into King’s shoes, the shift in energy and focus from Bowers was also noticeable, and once both performers settled and relaxed, resuming the play between them that comes straight outta’ the rehearsal room, the show really started and the opening night audience lapped it up.

 

For me, the writing is less convincing than the end result, in this case, of some lovely gentle direction and two intuitive, eventually very natural performances, which make us catch our breath more than once, and sit up straighter and taller at the challenge to pass the baton on. The final minutes are really something. Hall’s play about Martin Luther King Jr’s (imagined) last night on earth impressed the Brits and divided American critics, some of whom, like Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar haters, probably preferred to remember the martyr, not the man.

 

Candy Bowers and Pacharo Mzembe. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll

 

But it’s with the man we sympathise, though not completely, since he’s a chain-smoking womaniser with stinky feet! It’s the real (imagined) view of a weary man at his most vulnerable, confronted by a sassy motel maid that makes the piece interesting, as well as the casual and comedic repartee between a philanderer and a woman who is not all she seems. Camae cleverly represents a fierce, Oprahfied black woman, and at the same time, the sadder image of the oppressed; it’s a wishful feminism. I can’t give away how Camae has reached her enlightened state, but as someone who believes that there have always been strong women around, whether they’ve been noted or not, I’m all for this aspect of Hall’s fiction. Indeed, it’s what makes the play possible.

 

No spoilers here, but some of Camae’s tricks don’t quite work, and the fault may be in the writing more than in the production elements (when this play grows up it will be a movie). It’s easy enough to skip past these effects and appreciate the magic for what it is – a reminder that, as much as we like to think it so, we don’t know all there is to know.

 

Candy Bowers. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll

 

The highlight of this production is the delivery upstage, of Camae’s “The baton passes on” speech/rap/song/performance art piece by Bowers, supported by flickering images – a brilliant historical montage by optikal bloc – thrown across the motel windows and walls, not unlike Melbourne’s version of the play but with greater colour and immediate impact, paired as it is with Kieran Swann’s unassuming set, which moves and opens wide just as our hearts do. Layered within and around composition by Busty Beatz, Ben Hughes’ lighting and Tony Brumpton’s sound add to the extraordinary effect of a brilliantly conceived full-blown biblical ghetto sequence.

 

Pacharo Mzembe. The Mountaintop. Image by Rob Maccoll

 

The most startling difference here is that Bowers makes the list of names and historical events mean something even more than they did already. She commands the space, driving the energy and bringing the message home to multiple generations, to those who remember events, and those who should never have to see history repeat itself. Mzembe’s final address is poignant and despite the playwright’s determination to drive the point home once again before we go home, he is able to keep it real rather than maddening, genuinely challenging us to keep changing the world.

 

 

The Mountaintop gives its performers the chance to breathe, flex their muscles and fly. This is truly inspirational theatre; a call to action, and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to pick up the baton and pass it on.

 

 




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