The Story of the Miracle of Cookie’s Table won the 2005 Patrick White Playwright’s Award for good reason. This moving and funny work, set within an indigenous Stradbroke Island family, is a universal story about the destructive and restorative relationships between generations.
Wesley Enoch is one of the most significant Australian directors of his generation, and has already written two significant plays, Seven Stages of Grieving and Black Medea. The Story of the Miracle of Cookie’s Table demonstrates his most sophisticated writing so far.
The Story of the Miracle of Cookie’s Table is the history of a family over five generations. The motif of the family’s history, commencing in the 1870s, is Cookie’s table. Made from her birth tree, the table was made for a wealthy white family on the island. To keep near her tree, Cookie and the women of subsequent generations worked as cooks for the family until they were able to buy the table and the house.
Along with the table, the family has passed down its stories. The alcoholic Annie (Leah Purcell) and her government official son Nathan (Russell Smith) tell the story of their family. Like many family stories however, they are embellished, comprising as much of mythology as truth – some events glamourised and others deliberately omitted or changed.
Those dark, unacknowledged and unspoken secrets create the underlying tensions in the play.
Annie holds the truth about the past and, while she refuses to divulge it to Nathan, craves that her own mother acknowledges it.
Marion Potts’ sensitive direction allows her strong cast to each assume their own pace. Their rhythms reflect their characters – Roxanne McDonald’s Faith is beautifully measured, reliable and self contained. Juxtaposed against her calm is the mercurial Annie.
Leah Purcell is a wonderful actor. Playing the boozy and broken Annie, she completely inhabits every moment with an instinctive honesty that is captivating to watch.
Russell Smith gives an impressive and assured performance as Nathan, struggling throughout to repress his belligerence and maintain composure. He is the new generation, the last in the family’s line. Abandoned by his mother Annie and raised by his grandmother, he left Stradbroke to go to university and pursue an international career with the government.
He returns to the island for his grandmother’s funeral and meets his mother for the first time in years. They immediately enter into an emotional wrangle over who should get the table.
Nathan wants the table as a physical link his heritage – a symbol of family and cultural pride. But Annie craves to forget the memories embodied in the table. It is a conflict between the tragic experiences Annie suffered at the hands of her tribe and the pride Nathan has in his indigenous culture.
Annie urges that, rather than pursuing the past, Nathan looks forward to his future.
Enoch’s play is a very subtle piece of writing. It is rich with resonances without ever taking a position or being didactic. The Story of the Miracle of Cookie’s Table raises themes of child abuse and the loss of generations of indigenous men to alcoholism, rendering the culture essentially matrilineal. Implicit in these issues is the importance of land rights: the table and house that Cookie’s family were able to buy ultimately afforded them a level of stability, despite the dissolute behaviour of the men. More significantly, it optimistically looks to the future, confident of not being overwhelmed by the experiences of the past.
And the miracle of the table? For all it has experienced, it has endured and will continue.
This co production between Griffin and HotHouse Theatre is highly recommended.
Griffin Theatre Company and HotHouse Theatre present the Australian premiere of
THE STORY OF THE MIRACLES AT COOKIE’S TABLE
by Wesley Enoch
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross
Season: 16 August – 22 September 2007
Times: Monday @ 6:30pm. Tuesday - Saturday @ 8pm. Saturday Matinee @ 2pm
Tickets: Full $42. Snr $35. Preview/Matinee/Conc. $32. Group 8+ $32. Under 30 $25 | Monday Pay-What-You-Can (min $10, max 2 tix)
Bookings: 1300 306 776 or online at www.griffintheatre.com.au