Classic monologue given new life by simple re-arrangement into three-part polemic.
25 years since Eva Johnson wrote and performed this monologue on cultural, sexual and social identity, Eva Grace Mullaley directs the same script for TEEM Productions, re-imagined as a three-part, character-driven discussion. Intriguingly, the piece comes across as a fresh whole, rather than as a dated collection of ideas.
With the confronting layout of split seating either side of the Blue Room Theatre stage, performers sprawled and sitting in a row along the mid-point, neither audience nor cast can hide. The set is starkly simple, blank walls, a desk and office chair, bare floor, a long hard bench.
Amy Smith opens, playing Connie Brumby, a shouted one-sided conversation by Connie revealing that she has been locked up overnight. Humour infuses her tale of unwarranted police persecution, her domestic evening disrupted by a raid, answered by a flying frypan of spaghetti Bolognese and an unstoppable torrent of bad language, some invented on the spot. Smith gradually reveals the compacted layers of sadness and frustration that have shaped Connie’s existence and the desperation of the destitute. Two daughters taken “by the welfare” and adopted out, her son accused of murdering his step-father, her own sense of self fighting back against a lifetime of public and private abuse until, unstoppable, the anger overflows. Smith’s powerful performance brings a sense of resignation disrupted by bursts of rage and dark humour acknowledging Connie’s lack of agency in her own life.
The anger takes a seemingly petty turn when Alyssa Thompson’s Regina raves at her adopted mother on the telephone for lying to her, angry at being denied service by a bartender as a “coon”, when she has been proudly “Eurasian” her whole life. Comedy and tragedy mingle as she describes her upbringing, her pride in the small measures of suburban success, being thought “pretty”, study and work achievements, a husband and children to love. Regina’s white bread world is ideal until she is devastated to find that she embodies “not niceness” in this milieu. Thompson brings palpable courage to Regina’s reclamation of her birth family identity, rising from rage and pain at finding her small prides are all based on half-truths and lies.
Starting calmly, the final part of the triptych is celebrating her 6th anniversary with her lover. Ally is a fiercely proud Amazon warrior woman, proud of her racial and sexual identities. She takes her own path in life, unafraid to take ownership of her decisions and their consequences. Ebony McGuire shows us a gradual revelation of subtle frustrations and hidden anger, as Ally’s girlfriend gives her a book of black women activists’ poetry. The reading and recital of Jo Carrillo’s poem “And When You Leave, Take Your Pictures With You” is strongly delivered, with the ensuing reflection on where Ally stands within their strident social circle building light friction between the couple and culminates in a demand to know “what do they call me?”
Challenging, thought-provoking and disturbingly valid a quarter-century after its creation, What Do They Call Me? brings performing talent together with a strong script to produce a compelling piece of theatre.
The Blue Room Theatre and TEEM Productions present
What Do They Call Me?
by Eva Johnson
Directed by Eva Grace Mullaley
Venue: The Blue Room Theatre, Perth Cultural Centre
Dates: 10 – 27 September 2014