Monday, March 31, 2008

The Seed

The things I suffer for other people's art. On Saturday, I had to wake up in the MORNING (gasp! 9am) to take the 2.5 hour train to Central station. From there I had to lug my overstuffed bright green backpack like a studious turtle over to the Belvoir St Theatre. All this to see the second-last performance of an Australian play, my first without any Big Names or familiar authors as risk-mitigation.

Totally. Freaking. Worth it.

It was The Seed by Kate Mulvany, a semi-autobiographical play about an Australian ex-journo-turned-aspiring-writer-(the-real-kind), Rosie, who goes to Ireland with her Vietnam veteran father to meet her ex-IRA grandfather. The playwright is also the lead actress playing her barely-fictional self. This isn't a big-R review, so go elsewhere for the plot synopsis. There are several spoilers that aren't included out, cos I'm going to blow it for you. Basically, the dad got hit with Agent Orange which meant that he and the mum had four miscarriages before Rosie...who was born with kidney cancer, the treatment for which made her unable to have children. Her fiancé's just left her because of that. The other big reveal is about the grandpa. Throughout the play he paints himself as a devoted bomb-maker for the IRA, regaling them with stories of how many English pigs he's killed. But in the end it turns out that it was all a myth, that the "meetings" were just drinks at the pub with his mates and that the fundraised money was spent on the bookies. His lifelong lie had sown a (lo!) seed of guilt in his son for deserting his family and The Cause, driving him to Vietnam to prove himself. Dominoes and reverberations.

I laughed, I was sucked into the story, I blinked a whole damn lot. Kinda embarrassing when you're in the front row and one of the actors seems to be staring right at you. The emotion lingered for hours afterwards and I'm still thinking about it today - that's how I measure the impact of a play. Wanted to give a standing ovation at the end but, well, again with the self-conscious front-row squirmies.

Of course being a INTP equivocator type, I had to find some flaws with it as well. Can't let pure emotion go unchallenged by nitpicky thought! The "VN war = bad....just like IRAQ" thing was a little heavyhanded. You don't need to convince me that war is bad, you only have to do it elegantly. "What the fock is Agent Orange?!" and the list of PTSD symptoms were like being hit on the head with a giant expository hammer. The drama of the final confrontation flagged a bit - can't put my finger on the reason - and a reference to old and new, literal and figurative scars was a tad obvious at the end.

On the other hand, most of the writing was gorgeous. Occasionally in between the segments of family reunion dialogue, there are bits of monologue by the author-as-herself about a crayfishing trip with her father as a kid. There was a moment about how her father pulled the ropes to lift the pot as if he were dancing with himself. Mulvany's reading is dream-like as she acts out the hypnotising motion...omg. I won't forget that soon. What did Tom Stoppard say about moments that transcend text? That was one of them, even though it was so verbal. The other bit that made me sniffle like crazy was when Rosie tells her grandfather she can't have children (after his long spiel about how Malloney women are made to be mothers). She says maybe she doesn't deserve them and rips into this speech about the envy, rage and desire that she has when she sees pregnant women and soon-to-be fathers and babies. The violence and spite shock you, the wrenching yearning draws the blinkage. It is so painfully raw, made more so by the realisation that maybe this is the actress/writer speaking from her own experience. Chills, man. It takes real balls to put yourself on the line like that, and everybody appreciated it.

It's definitely nudging the top ranks on my "Theatre Bests" list, even accounting for recency bias. See if I was a real reviewer I'd end this with a crappy extension of the seed metaphor, blooms and trees or something, but instead I'm just going to brush my teeth and go to bed.

PS. I have this ultra-sexist crackpot theory that while men may be better at writing about great ideas and the sweep of history &c, women, even authors of teen fiction and other low-brow genres, are better at psychological and emotional realism. I mean much as I revere Sir Tom, with his piercing, crystalline turns of phrase, sometimes his characters' changes in mood are abrupt and seem contrived. Victor Hugo was one of my favourites as a teen, but a couple of dudes in Les Mis are impossibly saintly or heroic or villainous. Michael Ondaatje's English Patient is beautifully poetic but strange; people do inexplicable things and they all talk in this oblique manner. For shiz this is gross over-generalisation - Henry James' Washington Square was a masterpiece in minutely detailed character development. Emphasis on the "crackpot" part of the theory.

PPS. AMSA, you suck.

PPPS. My grammer and speling also suck. Fer shame.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Who's got the map?

"We need wit and courage to make our way while our way is making us."
- Salvage, Stoppard
Spoken about historical necessity, but also conveniently applicable to this one small life. Not blogging lately because everything comes out in angst. Who am I? Where am I going? Who stole my socks?