Saturday, March 31, 2018

Going Down

Photo by Brett Boardman

Sydney Theatre Company with Malthouse Theatre presents, GOING DOWN, by Michelle Lee, in Wharf 2, at the Sydney Theatre Company, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay. 23rd March - 5th May.

GOING DOWN, by Michelle Lee, is a new Australian play. Last year, the Griffin Theatre presented her play, RICE.

Natalie Yang (Catherine Davies), an Australian/Hmung Chinese, has written her first book, BANANA GIRL, a no-holds-bar sex memoir. No-one is really interested. On the other hand Lu Lu Jayadi (Jenny Wu), an Australian/Muslim from Indonesia, has just written a new book that garners the Miles Franklin Award - '(she) writes beautifully about her mother, her culture, Indonesia.'

Natalie is defiant in her rejection and failure of her memoir, and is scathing of the writing of Lu Lu Jayadi, and her content. She plans her next book: 100 COCKS IN 100 NIGHTS. This will be an authentic story of an Australian Asian woman that does not bend, refuses to bend, to the sentimental ethnographic demands of the bigger Australian reading public. There is, though, a slow descent into self-doubt that lacerates her confidence and encourages her to act even more crazily with her sex life. - which we get to witness! Even her close friends (Paul Blenheim, Josh Price, Naomi Rukavina), in her hip-Melbourne neighbourhood express their doubts about launching into this project. We watch a 'break-down' delivered in comic situations with comic characterisations that end in pseudo-melodramatic conclusions.

Her only support comes, surprisingly, from her perceived rival, Lu Lu, who applauds the courage of the BANANA GIRL book and makes offers to assist her with introductions to the right connections.

In an exhausted state, Natalie, connects with her mother (Jenny Wu), and finds some solace in her mother's family story that she had deliberately ostracised herself from. This knowledge of her family's history has her connect to her heritage, a part of her story, that she has vehemently avoided - and in it she finds a literary voice that speaks with a conviction that the other book lacked - was it a rage at the world she lived in that coloured and hampered her ability to succeed in the profession she wanted? Natalie discovers you must write what you know, from all that you know.

It becomes an ironic moment when Natalie and Lu Lu talk about their writing and their , ultimate, success, for it is then that successful Lu Lu confesses that she has avoided part of her truth/history in her writing, she has not being able to be an entirely honest writer. For, she is not only Indonesian, Muslim/Australian but also 'gay' - of which, she has never written. Will she ever have the courage to one day write of all she knows?

There is a serious subject matter examined here and when GOING DOWN grapples with that, the play begins to find a ballast that permits an audience to consider, with a little more acumen, about what they have been watching: What do people want from an Australian/Asian woman writer?

Ms Lee, determinedly, sets out to write a physical comedy to sweeten the 'medicine' of her real issue that, unfortunately, mostly counts on paper thin character and sketch comic observations/situations to gather laughs, on a running gag structure that becomes tiring in its efforts. There is no escaping that feeling, no matter the frenetic energy that Ms Davies invests in her performance to the inventions that Director Leticia Caceres creates with her.

The Design is comic book bright by The Sisters Hayes, Lighting by Sian James-Holland, and has a bouncing score by The Sweats. The references to the Melbourne scene and crowd may score familiarly more laughter down there than up here in Sydney, even though the place and types are not unknown.

Ms Davies in an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald, (Jenny Valentish - 24th March) with Ms Lee, concludes that:
My preference will always be with new work but it must not be treated as disposable. We want to create the Australian canon.
One does ponder whether GOING DOWN, despite its intimated powerful personal politics will be like the BANANA GIRL novel of the play, a disposable cultural offer, or a defining contribution towards the evolution on Asian-Australian playwriting canon.

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