Conversation about orgasms seemed to be the appropriate way to start an interview with Patricia Cornelius and Susie Dee. Far from being a quick 20 minute chat about Cornelius’ new play Savages to be directed by Dee at fortyfivedownstairs this August, the hour long meander through memory, social consequences, gender perceptions and performing oneself was a provocative and entertaining performance in itself – given by two very adroit craftswomen. The juiciest parts are below. Except for the orgasm bit. That was off the record.
“Savages is about pleasure,” says Cornelius, “So much of the relationship between men and women has absolutely nothing to do with pleasure – often it’s simply about getting out and having to ‘score’ – I think there’s something really pathetic about that. For both men and women.”
This underlying motivation forms one of the many layers in this highly visceral and candid examination of how a group of men (ages ranging between mid-thirties to mid-forties) who realize amidst the pains of growing old that life has forsaken them and engage subsequently in acts of shameful release.
“The word savage has a history in our lexicon. Whether it’s the noble savage or the primitive beast and of course many of these uses are colonizing devices ” explains Dee, “But in this play Patricia is disrupting the notion that the so-called civilized west is excluded from that discourse.”
“The ‘savage’ and what it symbolizes within this context,” she continues, “reflects the murky depths of human nature, lurking right here amongst us. This play exposes that ugly underbelly.”
Based upon extensive research into numerous football and rugby group sex incidents, as well as various other crimes the particular project has been in the pipleline for a while.
“As the artist we have a choice on how to shape the material,” explains Cornelius, “We can either use the research as real stories and therefore present them as ‘true’ using the whole documentary or semi-documentary approach and in turn run the risk of becoming encapsulated with that particular event; or on the other hand we could choose to write broadly, and that is what I wanted to do.”
The characters in Cornelius’ play are not the young testosterone driven men in their early 20s with alleged rapacious appetites that are often the centre of media scandals. The men in this play, as Dee points out are “past that stage, disappointed and unfulfilled”.
“These motifs have been with me consistently through my work,” admits Cornelius, ”These men are yearning for something that they cannot articulate – and that loss comes with not knowing what will make your life good. Not knowing what to dream for and that is incredibly disheartening.”
She adds, “I get worked up because I think, isn’t it appalling that life should be so poor that one can’t even imagine what they might want for? That seems terrible in a society such as ours.”
The idea of a female playwright and director exploring such a highly volatile issue with an all male cast is a positive step for an industry (and society) where gender roles continue to be divisive.
“I am no hater of men,” says Cornelius, “This play is about masculinity and misogyny and I feel a great sadness at how men are caught up in the masculine crap of what constitutes ‘being a man’. I find that a complete anathema and I think that men are as trapped as women today – but in different ways.”
As far as directing this work Dee confides that choosing a cast was a lengthy and rigorous process that necessitated an ensemble of male actors who “responded well to the text and were not afraid to engage physically with the material.”
“Patricia is not afraid to explore the often undiscussed and unspoken territory. It’s vital that these men aren’t portrayed in a way that they’re so charming or funny that we let them off the hook – it’s about achieving that balance.”
A play that is both poetic and yet unflinching in its examination of the dynamics of the group mentality and the pressures of what a ‘man’ is meant to be, both Cornelius and Dee hope that their audiences will leave with a ‘sense of thoughtfulness about the way men behave’.
“Patricia isn’t offering solutions, more like a window into the lives of a group of individuals who feel that life has done them badly. There’s a deep unhappiness here but the reality is that life is unrelenting.”
From the team who have been working together for over 25 years this carefully crafted new Australian drama promises to be a tour-de-force – one that sizzles and sputters with all the diverse experiences that life has to offer.
by Patricia Cornelius
Director Susie Dee
fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
16 August - 8 September 2013
Tuesday - Friday 7.30pm, Saturday 5pm and 8pm, Sunday 5pm
Bookings 03 9662 9966 | fortyfivedownstairs.com