Photos – Jeff Busby
A wild, passionate, intelligent young woman mourns her lack of education and rails against the conventional life. Bojana Novakovic brings a mesmerizingly beautiful and wayward Mary MacLane to the stage with sensitivity and a palpable love for the character and her words.
There is terrific theatricality in this show, from the skewed, tilting stage to the sudden appearance of a waterfall of potatoes (a neat symbol for the overwhelming banality of the ordinary life Mary fights to escape) to the story lines taken up in witty and original songs. Novakovic is a stunner in her ability to hold the stage. You can’t fault the performance or the script, allowing as it does for the unsaid to be present and full; Mary’s moments of truthfulness are given their weight and poignancy without obviously positioning the audience. We’re getting this imp of darkness on her own terms but Novakovic avoids the temptation to simply leave it at that. Her story is presented mostly in monologue, exquisitely balanced, with a wry and devoted Tim Rogers as an alter-ego of sorts embellishing and elucidating via his tunes Mary’s lonely, oddly contemporary journey of self-actualisation.
Mary is wracked by longing but with no real platform to express it. One of the most affecting moments has her gazing into a deep black well, imagining herself falling to a gentle death. Despite the success of her book and the play about her life, happiness eludes her. The only match for her passionate nature is ‘a perfect villain to come and fascinate me’, the devil no less, and she is driven to distraction in her wait. But Mary is not wholly self-destructive – one of the intriguing things about this character is how she saves herself from abjection by creating a sustaining work of art of herself, indulging in fantasy and narcissistic grandiosity punctuated by slivers of acute self-awareness. She doesn’t allow herself to become a victim, or subsume her identity or passion in her sexuality. The affective power of Novakovic’s script and performance resonate without self-indulgence. I wonder how many women in the audience besides me felt such kinship with this character from a century ago with her blatant demands to be seen? Modern Mary MacLanes would include Tracey Emin, the performance artist Orlan or the photographer Cindy Sherman.
We hear many times how Mary MacLane considers herself a genius but I was left wondering about her external life. Despite the unpredictable and innovative theatricality and astonishing sense of character, there is something missing in this account of Mary by herself; a sense of how on earth she survived living so unconventional a life in those times, for a start. She seems dismissive of her literary success. The build-up of anticipation of genius in the beginning of the show isn’t delivered by her story, matching the disappointment in life Mary herself feels. As a ‘loose woman’ she would have been shunned by the respectable world she despised, so how on earth did she get on? She had lovers but did she have friends? And what became of her? The intense introspection of the show may have been better balanced by snippets of her interactions with society but that's a quibble. The breaking the fourth wall moments where the show deconstructs itself give Mary a chance to confront her audience. The show ends with an eloquent silent petition on her part to be met and understood; finally, by us, she is.
Malthouse Theatre, in association with Griffin Theatre Company & Performing Lines, presents a Ride on Theatre production
The Story of Mary MacLane by Herself
Adapted by Bojana Novakovic after the writings of Mary MacLane
Directed by Tanya Goldberg
Venue: Merlyn Theatre, The Malthouse, 113 Sturt St Southbank VIC
Dates: 25 November – 11 December, 2011
Times: Wednesday – Thursday 7:30pm. Monday 28 November & Tuesday 6 December 6:30pm. Sundays 5pm
Matinees: Saturday 3 December At 2pm, Saturday 10 December At 2pm
Tickets: $26 – $51 (Including Booking Fee)
Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au | 03 9685 5111