In 2005, the story of Maria Korp made headlines across the country as the now infamous “lady in the boot” case. Maria Korp had been missing for four days when her car was discovered, abandoned near the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. When the police arrived, the stench was so strong they knew immediately they would find her body in the boot. What they didn’t know, was that she was still alive.
Maria Korp had suffered severe head injuries and four days deprived of oxygen had left her with little chance of survival. She was kept alive via a medically induced coma and in the months that followed the nation became embroiled in a debate over her treatment. In the end the courts approved the removal of her feeding tube and in a storm of controversy she died slowly of starvation.
Inspired by the story of Maria Korp, Make Me Cry uses the “brutal facts” of the case as the starting point for exploration, and concentrates on the events leading up to her death. It is a fictional re-imagining of the relationship between Maria and her husband Joe, and their relationship with a young couple, Josephine and Steve, whom they meet on a swingers website.
As the bond between Joe (Mark Minchinton) and the younger Josephine (HaiHa Le) intensifies, Steve (Todd Macdonald) whose heart was never really in it, walks away. Maria (Margaret Mills) becomes increasingly jealous of the younger woman and demands that Joe put an end to the relationship. Joe and Josephine decide to remove Maria as an obstacle. The rest, of course, we already know.
Writer/director Ben Speth has described Make Me Cry as a ‘theatrical investigation of form and language’ and as such it is an astonishingly simple and intriguing experience. In a series of intertwined soliloquies, four actors standing in a straight line address the audience directly. As their characters, they narrate their own stories almost as if they are giving evidence in a courtroom – their relationships are outlined in at times crude, intimate and dispassionate detail and, like the soliloquies of Shakespeare, because the characters speak to us directly, we assume they are telling the truth.
At no time do the characters react or interact with each other – they tell their story to the audience rather than demonstrate it. There are no lighting states or sound effects to suggest a mood, no exits or entrances, no particular costumes or set to indicate a time or place - nothing to separate the world of the stage from the world of the audience. In one sense this is text-based theatre taken to a logical extreme, as text is all we have by way of semiotic signposts; and yet this is not simply a radio-play or a play for voices. Our being within the presence of the actors is critical to the intensity of the storytelling – the careful and deliberate layering of narrative fragments and the sheer lack of theatricality opens the way for our own imaginative powers.
While the form of the play is intriguing, it could be argued that the characters themselves lack real substance. The almost singular focus on sex as a motivation is to over simplify and the emphasis given to the more salacious details of their sex lives leaves other, equally interesting motivations hinted at, but ultimately unexplored. To be sure the male characters are uncomplicated creatures, and each of them at different times declares simply, “I just wanna fuck”. The female characters display marginally more self awareness - but not much.
For me Margaret Mills as Maria and Mark Minchinton as Joe were the stand out performances but the control shown by all of the actors was excellent. Todd Macdonald does well with Steve, perhaps the least sympathetic character in the play, although none of them can be described as particularly sympathetic. HaiHa Le captures well the naivety of Josephine, although is given a strangely sentimental final speech which seems somewhat at odds with the rest of the play, but that is a minor quibble.
Ben Speth’s experiment is a challenging and necessary work which I enjoyed enormously. Make Me Cry is a vital and fascinating exploration of the theatrical form.
Elsewhere, inc. presents
Make Me Cry
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: July 26 - 29
Times: Thurs - Sat 8:00pm; Sun 5:00pm
Bookings: 9662 9966
Running time: 1 hour
Info: 9689 2470
* Please note: graphic language is used in this performance