Archive | February, 2013

Dark Stars

26 Feb
Jonathan Council exposes the racism and selling yourself out to be a star.

Jonathan Council exposes racism and selling yourself out to be a star.

By Daniel G Taylor

Dark Stars.

Written and directed by Arthur Meek. Performed by Jonathan Council. La Mama Theatre. February 13 to March 3, 2013.

Two African-American performers travel to Australia seeking to become a star – something that eludes them in the US.

The reason they leave America is the racism that puts a nearly-insurmountable obstacle in the way of their dream. More alarming than the racism itself is that it has continued for more than a century.

Both performers find that Australia is, on the surface, more accepting. They arrive seeking the same thing, and they both find something – and the different things they find are what gives this play its power.

Chasing Stardom

As a boy growing up in New York City, Jonathan Council wants to be a star. Yes, he enjoys the acting. Yes, he wants to perform. But what drives him is his desire to be famous.

It almost seems to an American cultural expectation that you haven’t succeeded if you’re not famous – even in occupations where fame seems out of place. Think Judge Judy, famous for passing judgements. Or Paris Hilton, famous for giving the media something to write about.

Council’s first chance at the big time came when auditioned for a part in the movie, Fame, and he got it. His mother, however, was appalled at his desire to have a career in show business, so she kept the news of his success to herself until after the movie had finished filming.

Like so many other aspiring actors, when he hit adulthood, Council moved to Los Angeles to pursue his passion. Like many following the same dream, instead of working as an actor, he got a job in hospitality.

It was while he was a doorman, waiting on stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Sidney Poitier, that he served Cher – a collision with a star that set him on a new course. She had just come back from a holiday in Australia and she encouraged Council to move here to follow his dream.

The idea took hold in Council’s mind and as he researched his trip, he Googled “Black American performers in Australia”. The results told him about a performer who lived a century earlier, Irving Sayles. From a young age, Sayles had been performing in minstrel troupes, giving white audiences what they wanted – stereotypical representations of African Americans.

Sayles and Council – with 100 years between them – arrived in Australia seeking stardom.

On the Other Side of Stardom

From the moment Council steps onto stage, he’s bursting with the ultimate star quality: likeability. Even before he’s started telling his stories or entertaining you, he has you onside, liking him and wanting him to succeed.

He mixes impersonations of Irving Sayles, Elizabeth Taylor and Sidney Poitier with dramatic storytelling, as he highlights his near misses with the “big time”. You need to be able to do comedy well to impersonate Irving Sayles and Council channels the comedian. Humour is also an ever-present part of Council’s story, but not outright comedy. Council’s story could be one of bitterness and resentment, and the humour makes it an enjoyable story for the audience.

One of the strongest elements of this play is the narrative arc. Writer and director Arthur Meek has found the natural parallels between Irving Sayle’s story and Jonathan Council’s. The similarities in their stories are handled so well that it feels organic rather than artificial.

The content of the play does highlight that some social problems have seen little change in the last 100 years. For those forced to the outside of society, fame appeals as a way to gain social acceptance. Racism pushes performers to put themselves into a package that is palatable to a pathetic public.

Despite tackling tough topics like failed dreams and racism, the humour used throughout transcends the darkness. Ultimately this is Jonathan Council’s story of transcending the pursuit of fame and finding something more meaningful, finding peace and allowing him to live authentically.

You need to see this play if you have ever whispered to yourself or declared to anyone that will listen, “I want to be star”. While there’s nothing wrong with the search for stardom, if you put that ahead of spiritual growth, you’ll miss your chance for happiness.

 

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In the Middle of the Night

17 Feb
Alex Pinder

Alex Pinder

By Joshua Lansell-Kenny

In the Middle of the Night.

Written by Rabindranath Tagore. Adapted for stage by Polash Larsen and Alex Pinder. Directed by Polash Larsen. Performed by Alex Pinder.

In the Middle of the Night is a play based on a set of stories by Rabindranath Tagore from late 19th Century India. It explores relationships as they deal with grief, mental illness and marriage. Although written more than 100 years ago, the themes remain relevant today. In today’s recovering patriarchal society we are given a look at a time when women were in charge.

Women and Death in India

The first story explores the troubles of a man with a broken mind. His first wife, long dead, lives on in his head. He has married another girl, the daughter of the doctor who cared for his first wife on her deathbed.

The man could not stand to see his first wife constantly suffer and she asks the doctor to end her life. While the doctor does not openly condone this, her husband enters into a passionate and long monologue about how indifferent doctors can be about mortality. His wife kills herself but forces her husband to promise he wont grieve. She says, “If you are happy, I will die happy”.

Whenever he declared his love for her, she cut him off with a biting laugh. When she is dead, and he has remarried, he declares his love for his new wife. He faints when he hears his dead wife’s biting laugh.

The second story is that of a near-dead woman. Thought to be dead, she’s taken to the cremation grounds but wakes up before she is burned. She recalls her illness, and she remembers blacking out, and when she wakes up in a cremation hut she assumes she is dead and is now a ghost.

Unsure of where to go next, she stumble directionless through rice paddies. She decides to appeal to a childhood friend, who won’t know that she’s dead. As the months pass, she becomes an increasingly more annoying house guest. When her friend can no longer stand it, she is asked to leave.

With nowhere else to go, she heads to her sister-in-law’s house, where her nephew is sick. She speaks to the boy, but upsets him when she is discovered by a maid. Her sister-in-law rushes in and faints. Her brother comes into the room and pleads with her to leave. Every night since she “died”, the boy has seen her in his delirium.

“An Old-Fashioned Probe into the Human Psyche”

An engaging start to the play set the feel for the entire production as a fast-paced and passionate adventure through Raj India. With Alex Pinder as the only actor and a single, simple set, the technical elements were kept to a minimum. One example is the lighting, where the only fade out came at the end.

The relationships between the characters provided many humorous insights but overall it was a serious probe into the human psyche long before the field of psychology had emerged. The first story tackles euthanasia and incurable suffering. We’re told that someone who is not able to be cured can be better off dying than living in pain and draining themselves and others for the remainder of their life.

We gain a sense that India was smaller a century ago. You could find another person simply by going to their hometown and asking for them.

The use of the courtyard at La Mama on a warm night, with trees all around and the honk and hum of traffic helped bring India alive.

Alex Pinder made full use of the stage and brought the right amount of emotion and passion to all the roles he performed, crossing genders with ease.

In the Middle of the Night would most appeal to people with a background in psychology. Children and the easily unsettled may find it confronts them with its themes of suicide, death and the supernatural. But for those who are looking to see a talented actor breath life into some ageless stories, then you’ll want to see this.

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