If theatre can transport you to different places and/or periods in time it also facilitates insight into different voices and points of view. Points of view shaped by experiences that may be completely foreign to the audience member. This is definitely the case with What Do They Call Me? as questions of identity, sexuality, and belonging are tackled through the prism of indigenous culture. It is part confronting, part illuminating and definitely thought provoking.
Here, director Eva Grace Mullaley has split the original one woman piece into three monologues performed by Amy Smith, Ebony McGuire and Alyssa Thompson. Smith leads off with an angry tale set in a police lockup as her character Connie demands to know why she is there and berates her jailer for the circumstances. Thompson follows with an exploration of how being raised white in an adopted household has affected her character’s perception of self and own worth. McGuire ends the 45 minute performance as an indigenous lesbian activist who struggles with these diverse aspects of who she is. The main linking device is that Connie is the mother of both Regina and Alison (Thompson and McGuire) who were taken from her.
It is a simple set with a bench in the middle of the stage, a desk at one end, and images that are occasionally projected on each far wall. Unfortunately, the seating configuration was in the wings so the audience is perpendicular to the main performance space. This meant that for the first monologue the actor’s back was largely to me and while I could hear the anger I could not see it. I wanted to witness the visceral emotion that the words and performance demanded. The second monologue was at the other end of the axis so it felt a little removed as well. The third was at my end of the space which meant I had full access to the expressions and emotions which is perhaps why it was my preferred monologue of the night.
Afterwards at the bar, the director and actors were graciously thanking people for coming to the performance. A work colleague from over east and I subsequently had a good conversation with Mullaley and one of her actors. Feedback was sought and given and we talked about issues the play raised. It’s one of the great strengths of the Blue Room environment that it sponsors such genuine and frank discussion. There’s an immediacy that adds to the experience so thank you to Mullaley and Smith for being so generous with their time and remarks. The play and discussion made a real impact on my colleague who is involved in negotiations regarding greater opportunities for indigenous employment in the industry we work in. Serendipity indeed as he’d only arrived in Perth the day before and the decision to attend the play was purely spontaneous.
What Do They Call Me? shines a spotlight on aspects of indigenous culture that are raw and moving. It does so with an honesty and authenticity that demands respect. The play is on at the Blue Room until 27 September and is written by Eva Johnson, Directed by Eva Grace Mullaley and stars Amy Smith, Ebony McGuire and Alyssa Thompson.