Left - the cast of The Colour Blind Project
Short plays are very much in favour. Of those, all, or most, are short. But not all are as sweet as they claim. The Colour Blind Project takes on a rather more solemn mission: short, multicultural plays, specifically devised to highlight the difficulties of deriving multiculturalism in the all too monocultural arts. At least I think that's it. Whatever it is, precisely, it's a noble and long overdue initiative, aiming, in its own words, to change the face of Australian theatre (from white only, to black, yellow and brindle). The brainchild of festival directors, Josipa Draisma & Stephanie Son, it has gathered together, in its great, big melting-pot, nine writers, the same number of directors and almost double that number of actors. It's also recruited an impressive number and range of sponsors, including the likes of the 10 television network. No only, but also, patrons, supporters and spokespeople include the electrifying Paul Capsis; Girlfriend, Robyn Loau; and that ridiculously articulate champion of progressive theatre, Chris Mead (artistic director, PlayWriting Australia).
As the son of an immigrant myself, I know what it's like to be singled out in the playground. I know what it's like to be passed over, in favour of blue-eyed blondes, who probably have more fun, as a direct result. The only time I recall being on the bullying side was when Jane Elliott put me there.
There may be one or two indigenous actors, for example, who've transcended that identity in being cast. Aaron Pedersen and Deb Mailman spring to mind. But I've got ten fingers and roughly the same number of toes. That's, um, about twenty, altogether. I'd like to be able to count that many in the same category. I ought to be able to.
Speaking of Capsis, when has he not been cast as gay, or Greek, or both? Maybe there have been occasions, but the point is I shouldn't have to risk a brain hemmorhage, or have to lay fresh tarmac for neural pathways, to bring 'em to mind, eh? As Loau says, 'wouldn't it be great to turn onto Summer Bay and see a true representation of Australian people?' And Capsis: 'I've prayed and hoped that in this new century we'd start to reveal who we truly are'.
If the makers, movers and shakers have their way, this is the inaugural CBP. The shape of multicultural things to come.
So much for background. Is it any bloody good? Yes, very bloody good. Someone who should know had said he couldn't remember any heat or final of Short 'n' Sweet being of such consistently high quality. Neither can I. That's not so much an indictment of S 'n' S, but enthusiastic endorsement of CBP.
Woven, like wicked wicker, between the actual plays is a clever, connected series of sequential vignettes, penned by Jason Yeh and directed by Heath Wilder, featuring Bjorn Stewart & Nisrine Amine, both finely nuanced, playing, topically enough, two hopeful young actors, struggling to remain sanguine and sane, while they wait for the phone to ring. There's a comic twist in their tender tale, too; with plenty of laughs along the way. And it's all set to grating elevator muzak, in the form of subversions of The Girl From Ipanema.
Almost Love is as much poem, as play. An ode. An homage to a lost or invented lover. No set, to speak of. No wardrobe, to speak of. Even the lighting is unobtrusive. Just two gifted actors who, despite their characters' growing distance, and dissonance, the disconnect between them, at times almost become one. Written by Fleur Beaupert; directed & dramaturged by the vivacious Felicity Nicol; featuring Christina Falsone and Lee-Ann Simon. It's beautifully simple. And simply beautiful. As Mead bitterly, truthfully & tragically observes, 'Australian theatre companies just don't read new plays'. If they did, this would be coming to Sydney Theatre, in the very near future. (In point of fact, this whole bloody festival would be.) Cate? Andrew? Are you listening?
John Buencamino, or his character, has lost his job. He stands, in an eerily suicidal pose, shoes removed. He's still in his suit. Silvana Lorenzo de Shute observes how new his shoes look. Hardly been worn. Hardly been walked in. Like his life. His soul. She tries to suggest other possibilities. to open his mind. His optimism. His shell. to reinvigorate, rejuvenate and resuscitate his spirit. 'You're weird!', they proclaim, to each other. In The Company Of Ants is a meditation, too, on connection and disconnection; a mourning for lost community. When our anonymity, our uniformity, our conformity is stolen from us, what do we have left? How can we find our individuality? Where do we get the courage? Very well-acted and enunciated (I've seen too many actors lately who could learn some craft from these), finely written by Felino Dolloso, it's very capably directed, by Gavin Roach.
Andrew Esk has penned The Secret & The Shadow. A beautiful mind. A corporate woman invites, or dares, a peer to touch her shadow, who she talks to regularly. Ecstasy ensues. The same woman then guilts her colleague into letting her touch the colleague's secret. It's orgasmic. Is there a theme here? Though this is a comical outing, in an oblique way it also traverses the territory of the first two: how we long and lust to touch each others shadows and secrets. How we hanker and ache to truly know others; biblically, and otherwise. Director Travis Green has extracted every drop of Esky's funny juice. Or funny farm juice: his is a twisted mind. Carla Narella is good. Stephanie Son is stupendous.
Craig Meneaud & Michael Cutrupi are ten. Well, not really. But they are in this play, Gameboy, by Sime Knezevic, directed by Netta Yashchin. They kick a soccer ball and confess their family foibles. Meneaud enters emulating the late, great Michael Jackson. Both assume the doubts, fears, insecurities and bravados of streetkids such that one empathises from the first. As with some of the other plays, the resolution, as I recall, is a bit of a cliffhanger. But then so are real life episodes, aren't they? It's well-observed, compassionate work, realised on every level.
Momento Mori steers into similar territory to Almost Love. Here are two gay men, haunted by memory, informed by culture, tormented by desire, trying to reconcile love and loss. While the script sometimes teeters on the pretentious and immature, with a tendency to 'show off' the playwright's literacy, which can be annoying and distracting, this is a mere quibble, a trifle, in the context of the authenticity the author achieves in portraying and symbolising the complexities of intimate relationships. In just a few minutes we're effectively sold a life story; a love story, but not a soapy one. Written by Bradley Vincent, this is probably the best gay play I've ever seen. And a firecracker in the more generic sense, to boot. James Beach directs his actors bravely. Craig Meneaud overdoes it a little, but speaks so beautifully, this is quickly forgiven. Johnny Nicolaidis is measured and meticulous.
A Few More Years, featuring Netta Yashchin and her hapless male victim, bound to a chair, was written by Tim McDonald & directed by Paige Rattray. Yashchin has been walking the streets for a long time, along with Jugs. I'm neither psychoanalyst nor Sherlock, but I think I may've picked up on a subtle clue, or two, that indicates she might be over it. And men. If you like your broads slightly coarse, if you like to be stirred, if not shaken, if you relish plainspeak, but with colourfully-coined phrases, you'll like A Few More Years, though don't bring nanna, for it might subtract those, rather than add. I'm not sure what Tim Mc had to do, or for how many years, to get this sort of lowdown. Nor do I want to know. A seriously good, if confronting play. Come to think of it, it's seriously good, in large measure, precisely because it manages to be so confronting.
Augusta 'Gus' Supple is no stranger to these pages: a reviewer and arts writer esteemed by peers and readers. She's also, among other things, a playwright. And Boxed Carnation proves just how much of one. Three women go into a bar. It's no joke. One does most of the talking, but she really speaks for all three. She is, I assume, every woman, no woman; a very particular woman. She has succumbed to internet dating. She awaits her important date. He's late. She gives it two long minutes. 'Less time than it takes to boil an egg.' In her mind, she pores over her profile. Did she do anything wrong. 28. Ish. Close enough. She's ticked all the right boxes. But there should be one for punctual, so she might avoid this ignomionious, self-conscious waiting game dating game. She leaves. But there's a terrible kicker, which elicits a sigh of pained frustration from the audience. Gus, you're an awful tease. Directed by Danielle O'Keef, featuring Josipa Draisma (who hits just the right anxious note), Vixen Noir (you gotta love that name, for a tall, sexy, black woman) & de Shute, it's a deft piece of writing. I hate you, Gus.
The Dead Sun is a sombre note on which to end. A heavy chord, composed by Alex Broun and struck by director Denise Sivasubramaniam; featuring Suz Mawer, Fellino Dolloso & Arnold Luichareonkit (the next-to-solo-saviour of a recent production of Macbeth, which has secured an unwitting place in Sydney theatre history, for all the wrong reasons). Parents, Mawer & Dolloso are still struggling, in very separate ways, to come to terms with the loss of light in their lives. Their bright son has left behind stargazer lilies, which they tend religiously, but their souls' soil has been robbed of its fertility. Heavy, man. But well-played and written. The reinvention of the set was inspired too. And a nod to the lighting designer/s and operator/s, whoever they may be.
It's the festival designed to take wog actors out of work and put 'em in it. It's the festival designed to jolt us, from our white Australia arts policy and politics slumber. Why can I still hear loud snoring? Wake up!
The Colour Blind Project
Venue: TAP Gallery Theatre, 278 Palmer Street Darlinghurst
Dates: 30 June - 10 July, 2010
Times: Wednesday - Saturday 8pm
Tickets: Adults $25 / Concession $20