|Photo by Robert Cato|
Darlinghurst Theatre Company presents OVERFLOW, by Travis Alabanza, at the Eternity Theatre, Burton Street, Darlinghurst. 9th - 25th September.
The Darlinghurst Theatre Company has curated a play written by a black British writer - playwright, poet -/performance artist/theatre maker, Travis Alabanza (they/them) called OVERFLOW (2020). Set in a fashionable gleaming night club bathroom we meet a trans femme, Rosie (Janet Aderson (she/her), who has locked herself in the bathroom and begins talking of 'the joy of the pre-emptive piss' that leads to many further anecdotal recall of the personal distress she has experienced in such spaces - this politically sensitive liminal space - that emotionally triggers a reaction that causes her to block the sinks, toilet and floor drain with paper and turn on the taps that over the 60 minutes or so of the monologue flood the room in an overflow that releases her to acts of further vandalism by throwing sodden paper onto the walls and leaving lipstick graffiti messages on the mirrors.
Whilst cribbed in this luxurious space Rosie illustrates the human cost of the daily difficulties of confronting a sexual identity that is different from our society's binary norms when revealing oneself as a transitional being in her community. Rosie's stories gradually shares with us that she is not defined by trauma and she is not defined by victimhood alone, but actually, is also defined by joy and friendship. Overflowing with the catharsis of emotional release reacting against the intrusive outside thumping of the night club music and the persistent battering of the door (Sound design and Music by Danni A Esposito), Rosie, splashing in her boots in the rising waters, exits.
Then, a blackout follows.
The anger, and its polar opposite: the ironic laughter that Rosie has shared with us has led us into a place of the echoing knowledge of our own careless and shameful inhumanity that only the act of SILENCE seems to be the acceptable response. A shocking, confronting response.
Recently, I had watched a television program on ABC iView, an AUSTRALIA STORY from 2014 with Georgie Stone, an Australian actor, writer and transgender rights advocate, who at the age of 10 was the youngest person to receive hormone blockers in Australia, which set a precedent that eventually changed the law that compelled transgender children and their families the necessity to apply to the Family Court of Australia to access stage one treatment. I was moved by the courage and power of that young woman. That she was awarded, in 2020, a Medal of the Order of Australia, it gave me a fillip of excited hope for the future. This award was one of many observing her deserving recognition.
OVERFLOW, then, is a contribution in our theatres to encourage us to open our hearts, our minds, to a just and compassionate modern community. The Darlinghurst Theatre Company has embraced under the behest and excited 'pitch' of Director, Dino Dimitriades (They/them) to present this one act play with a company of trans artists (and their supporting comrades, Benjamin Brockman (he/they). The foyer, the public toilets, the whole of the public Eternity Theatre spaces had been prepared by trans artists of Sydney to welcome the audience into an immersive experience that was enlightening and positively hopeful in anticipation of the main event.
The political acumen of this production house is relevant and exciting. There is no denying that and is applauded.
The Company had made an online call for trans actors to audition for the role of Rosie. I was disappointed then that the performer chosen was a third year Acting Student at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. Out of all Sydney's trans talent pool the best applicant was a student actor still engaged in training. (I am surprised.) For, as courageous as Janet Anderson was, there was a weakness of vocal skill that denied the poetry of the Travis Alabanza play to 'sing' to the audience. The voice in this hour long work lacked range and variety of action and ceased to hold one's attention to the source inspiration. One heard the content but not, consistently, the poetic language choices that the poet/author had laboured to create. (This actor's CV in the program told us that she had played HAMLET!). As well, I felt neither the actor nor director had the wherewithal, the dramaturgical skill, to shape the work into a completely satisfying experience for the audience. Without the active assistance of the Director the actor plodded from one anecdote to the next, in a simplistic chronological order but did not clarify the artistic objective of the work - shape it as part of her craftsmanship as an actor - did not build the accumulation of the emotional state of the storyteller. I did not come away from the performance with a shaping of the writer's intention. What, other than the shocking anecdotes do I take away from the performance of this play? I was puzzled and let down. The actor seemed to give each anecdote/episode the same emphasis and the same weight. Rosie was, relatively, as placid at the conclusion of the monologue as she was when we first met her, teasingly defining the pleasure of the pre-emptive piss.
I am surprised that Dino Dimitriades was not able to find a more able, experienced performer in all of Sydney. I could mention, for instance, that Georgie Stone is a working actor. And, though Rosie written by a black queer trans woman was played in the premiere of this play at the Bush Theatre in London by a white trans actor, Reece Lyons, I could name several black actors in Sydney who could probably honour the work at hand (maybe, availability was the problem).
The best work given by Dino Director was the Set Design and the engineering/plumbing of it - this Design pre-occupation, was also true, in my observation of their work on LADY TABOULI (for the National Theatre of Parramatta). A skilful Set Design but an underwhelming ability to dramaturgically serve the writer's play and to assist the actor.
This production of OVERFLOW, for me, was a political necessity at last confronted, however, was an underwhelming artistic experience.