Australia's PuSh offerings: antipodal opposites
A flamboyant polemical monologue and a riddling Zen trio from Down Under.
At the end of his monologue, though, he sheds his potter’s apron and changes into a flaring corduroy sportscoat, vest and red leather shoes (complete with spats). Thus attired, he presents before an imaginary judge – us, the audience – a mockingly legalese brief calling on The Crown (and its Australian governmental legatees) to expunge his lengthy criminal record.
For all his formulaic civilities, he’s no Friend of the Court. He eloquently, even wittily, indicts The Crown for stealing the whole antipodal continent, inflicting both physical and cultural genocide on its indigenous people, then criminalising and incarcerating the demoralized aboriginal survivors. Adding insult to injury, The Crown dehumanizes ex-cons with an indelible criminal record that follows them right unto their graves.
Or as least it does so for a “blackfella” like Charles; he cites legal precedents where young “whitefellas” have had their records cleansed in consideration of their future life prospects. Most gallingly, he recalls how, because of his rap sheet, he was denied entry to Great Britain. Even holding an Australian passport, “they wouldn’t let me set foot on their soil. Well, they sure felt free to set their feet all over my country” for hundreds of years now; criminal trespass of the highest order, as far as Charles is concerned.
Count ourselves lucky, then, as Canadians, that he’s been allowed set foot on this unceded indigenous soil of this, “our” country, to make his cogent and theatrically compelling case.
The kindness of strangers elicits the strangeness of our (human) kind in “Intimacy,” from Ranters Theatre, Melbourne. Photo: PuSh.
Equally compelling, though, is the 2016 PuSh offering from “whitefella” Australia. “Intimacy” presents a rare foray into another kind of unceded territory: the hidden weirdness behind the wowsers’ mild façade.
Ever notice how it can be sometimes easier to exchange innermost secrets with a complete and transient stranger – a seatmate on a long red-eye flight or the person on the next barstool – than it is to bare your heart to your nearest and dearest? Ranters’ artistic director, Adriano Cortese, has the perfect face to attract this sort of confession – bald and bland as an egg, creased only by the occasional smile of encouragement.
Thus equipped, he trolled the streets of Melbourne for stories, recording whatever he heard. He collated the best into a medley that he, along with his immensely talented co-stars Patrick Moffat and Beth Buchanan, render on an almost empty black box stage.
The revelations are startlingly intense and quirky. We meet a woman who can only find rest when she’s so ground down by weeks of insomnia that she no longer cares whether she sleeps or not. Then there’s the high school history teacher who moonlights as a costumed street busker doing incredibly graceful and zoomorphically astute bird imitations. At one point Cortese himself, the consummate interviewer, becomes an interviewee to confess that, for all his cultivated pose of eager self-effacement, he’s actually highly judgemental and obsessed with his appearance.
Yet all these revelations are delivered so matter-of-factly that it’s hard to believe the dialogues are scripted rather than just blurted afresh right on the spot. The vignettes are ever-so-gently nudged along by a faint – almost subliminal – minimalist score by sound designer David Franzke.
Some of the most powerful dramatic moments occur in those trailing three-dot lapses when the speaker has run out of things to say. The pauses can last a little longer than either the characters onstage or, for that matter, we in the audience would find quite comfortable. Then the ellipsis often ends with a kind of nervous wowser titter to remind us that, despite the intimacies just exchanged, we all remain strangers after all.
To enhance the effect, a large screen above the stage intermittently displays a full-frontal head shot video of one or another of the actors looking straight out at us as the faint traces of thoughts and feelings flicker indecipherably across the face. Nothing menacing about these stares, but they are uncanny. When they last long enough, we almost feel like admitting some intimacy of our own – but what? – right back at them.