Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Vagina Monologues
At The Butterfly Club until August 6th

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

What I knew about The Vagina Monologues prior to seeing this local production at The Butterfly Club: it's a controversial piece of theatre that has been around since the mid-90s; something about Whoopi Goldberg being involved in one production; there might have been a movie version; it's basically a bunch of women talking about their vaginas.

My preconceptions prior to seeing this production (featuring Dayna Boase, Luci Klendo and Linda Cookson): It is theatre for chicks; it's probably anti-male; even though I quite like vagina's it's probably not my kind of theatre because I'm not a chick; in spite of its longevity and apparent critical acclaim, it's probably really just novelty theatre because how can you have a show that runs for an hour that's just women talking about their vaginas?

(I'd like to add here that the only show I could think of that has also been around for many years and is about penises is Puppetry Of The Penis, in which, as far as I know, some men get up on stage and basically play with their willies. I'm not suggesting for a minute that the underlying political, social and cultural explorations of Vagina Monologues and the blatant childishness of Puppetry says anything relevant about the differences between the sexes... no wait – maybe that's exactly what I'm suggesting... hmm).

What I knew about VM was a result of background noise, and I was pretty correct about it all. As to my preconceptions... pretty much, all completely wrong. These were my interpretations of the facts, and wow, I really was very wrong on all counts.

At this point, I'd like to say that if you consider yourself a thinking male and you've read this far but haven't actually seen VM, take that step and go see it. I found it by turns funny, sad, tragic, entertaining and somewhat – just by the nature of the thing – educational (that's the wrong word... enlightening? I don't know – just go see it and you'll know what I mean).

Written by American playwright Eve Ensler, VM is a selection of a collection of around 200 interviews in which a wide variety of women discuss various aspect of their vagina and experiences being women. There really is a broad range of topics, ideas, histories and stories. This is not novelty theatre. It's important theatre, which is obviously why it has been doing the rounds for so long. Duh.

There were many favourite sections, but I'm reluctant to go into too much detail. There was an alphabetised section in which all the imaginable nicknames for the vagina were covered; the personification section in what would your vagina wear/say etc; there were accounts of women who were variously ashamed or ultimately proud of their vaginas; the c-bomb was reclaimed in dynamic fashion; and much more. All accounts felt deeply personal, coming from existences that most of us are blessed to only be able to imagine.

And obviously, as men, we can only imagine the significant impact on a human-being that having a vagina can have; we can only imagine what it is like to be a woman. At various times throughout, I found myself wondering, really? That has happened? That happened to you? You were made to feel that way? Someone did that to you?

Actually, another preconception I had was that this would be a confronting piece of theatre. I was correct here. In parts it was – albeit poetically – highly confronting, but in the way that the miraculously natural process of a painful birth is confronting. I was happy to be confronted by these very real stories.

The performances were solid as the three performers took on a myriad of characters, each having their moment to shine, all clearly enjoying performing.

I can't compare this production to others, as many probably can, but I do know I found it very satisfying theatre indeed. For me, the best theatre makes us laugh and it makes us cry as it gives us a glimpse into the lives of others. Women will, of course, recognise and definitely empathise. They will attend and will enjoy. I just hope more men go along for this short season, because they will also enjoy some quality theatre. It's definitely feminist in nature (ultimately asking, as it does, is this fair? Or perhaps making the statement, this just isn't fucking fair!), but unless you are sexist, what's the problem with that?

Monday, July 31, 2017

On Being Immortal

And Black Rainbow
After a lifetime of jokes
About being immortal,
Realised that he was actually

They were all gone,
All the good ones,
All the ones he loved all gone,
And he was all alone,
Just he and the bad ones

Oh fuck, he bemoaned,
It's just me and the fuckwits then,
For eternity.

Fucking fuck.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What Was She Thinking?

What was she thinking
When you told her of another dream
When you came up with another idea
Another adventure
Another plan.

A dream and an idea and adventure
That came to nothing.

What was she thinking
When the dream
And the idea
And the adventure
Came to nothing?

What was she thinking?

What was she thinking
When she agreed to stay with you?
Really, what was she thinking?

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Moira Finucane, The Rapture, Review

The Rapture

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

Short review for the Moira-converted: Just go see it. Duh.

More detailed review for those who haven't had had The Divine Moira Experience: Wow, where to start.

This is without a doubt a strange show. At times, it is positively weird. At times you might not even know what the hell is going on. Splitting hairs, perhaps, but I didn't feel that this was burlesque,as such, but more performance art. 80 minutes of thrilling Gothic weirdness. A kind of surreal dramatic monologue with flashes of humour and musical interludes, stunning costumes, lots of nudity and some tomato sauce.

In the past I've only seen Moira Finucane as part of an ensemble that she has curated. She has brought together the world's most talented burlesque artists frequently over the years and has appeared amongst them, usually standing out, with her performances being dark, powerful and often hilarious.

With The Rapture, it's a treat to see Moira do her thing for the duration of the show with assistance from a mere handful of performers. It's a pretty demanding task to set herself. In The Rapture, Moira is a story teller. She tells stories and stories and stories, acting out the narration as she tells us these stories. I wanted to be a more conscientious reviewer - like the chap across from the stage in the white shirt and red scarf who ostentatiously scribbled in his notebook throughout the performance (anyone know who he was? I'd be interested in reading his review) – but to be honest I was just too enthralled by what was happening on stage to take notes.

Moira is an engaging story teller to say the least. But she also an engaging actor. In The Rapture, she is a shapeshifter. She is a growling, dark and dominant Goddess who it would be wise not to anger, then the most feminine of girls going through the phases of love. Physically, she can have a strong, almost masculine presence, but she can also appear, well, just really beautiful.

And that beauty would appear to come from within. Moira is obviously a feminist, but there is an all-embracing feel to what she does. There is an undeniable celebration of the feminine in this show, as there has been in all her previous shows, but it would appear that she wants to celebrate the beauty of life in all its forms. The revelation that Moira is an Environmental Scientist came as a bit of a surprise, given the accomplished performer that she is. And yet it shouldn't surprise.

Highlights for me were many. The costumes... such lush creations. The scene where Moira acted out the various phases of love to the accompaniment of U2's With Or Without You (I think this is correct – as I said, too enthralled to take notes). The general pagan feel of the night including the breaking and sharing of bread. Shirley Cattunar's version of A Daisy A Day... wait on – this deserves its own paragraph.

Another highlight is that all of the performers hang around and mingle and hug and talk. I was lucky enough to thank Shirley Cattunar for her version of A Daisy A Day, and I hope she doesn't think I was just being nice. This is a song I haven't heard for a lifetime, but its simple lyrics are so beautifully sad, delivered here in such a raw, almost frail way, that it made me tear up. Nice work, you beautiful woman.

Do see this show. It's a strange and darkly beautiful creation that you won't quickly forget.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Today In The Cafe: Real Generosity

Two beautiful things today.

A customer was reading my stories with interest. My co-worker Noraa told me she seemed shy and was surprised that the stories were mine and that she would tell me what she thought about them before she left.

Before she left, she hand wrote a poem on the back of an art gallery flyer. The poem is beautiful. The sadness comes from the fact that we didn't talk. I'm kind of introverted as well. I liked her poem. We could have talked about writing and poetry and thoughts about things and things and stuff and more things and stuff.

But she was gone. The beautiful poem on the flyer though, I have that.

The second beautiful thing today.

The door to the cafe is closed. An ancient Asian lady knocks on the door. I open the door. She tells me she needs one more bucket, a five litre bucket like the ones we use all the time and throw away. It's for the old people, she tells me. I get one such container from the kitchen. She is so grateful when I give her this empty plastic container. Thank you, she says, in her broken English, it's for the old people. I have no idea what she intends to do with the containers. She is dressed in rags.

Wait - do you want some food? I ask her. Her expression is blank for  a few moments. I gesture about free food, for the old people. Her ancient face lights up. I ask her to come inside and wait.

I show her the food I can give to her and she looks so happy. I start putting the food - delicious pastries and sandwiches crafted by Heart-Shaped Lollipop Girl that we had been intending to eat over the weekend - into a takeaway bag, and this is where the beauty thing happened, because this is not about me being generous.

Ancient Asian woman in her raggedy clothes looking after the old people, she insists I stop. "You keep some for you. You keep some food for you."

Now that is generosity. What a caring, generous soul she is.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Cigarettes After Sex

Today in the cafe... my new front of house helper Nøraa and I were working away during a lull in customers. Out of the blue, she struck up conversation with, "So eeeh... you know cigarettes after sex?" Spoken in that hybrid French/Spanish accent.
"Erm... yeah?" I replied, thinking that she was asking if I was aware that people enjoy smoking cigarettes after having sex but not having any idea where she was going with it.
She nodded slowly almost to herself. "Mmm. Is good."
I waited for a while, thinking there was more to come. Maybe the results of a new study or something. I don't know. But that appeared to be it. Apparently she had just wanted to tell me that she enjoys a cigarette after a good bonk. Which is cool. That's fine. Random as hell, but fine.
"So..." I asked eventually, "What made you share that with me?"
"That you like smoking after having sex."
"No the band that is playing this song. It is Cigarettes After Sex. Is good."
"Oh. Oh I see."

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Poet At My Table; A Chat With Poet Anthony Lawrence

Today in the cafe... a customer who likes his double espressos asked me, randomly, if I read poetry. I said I read a bit of poetry and write a little of it. He said Oh really? He then showed me me some poetry that he was reading, an intriguing poem by an Irish poet, someone Muldoon.

We started talking. There were clues. He was reviewing this book because Australian Book Review had asked him to review it. We talked a little about reviewing. He mentioned that he was an academic. He said something about students. I asked what he taught. He said he teaches creative writing on The Gold Coast, and he hates The Gold Coast. I told him that I hate The Gold Coast too. We talked about why we both like Melbourne so much. Far better place in so many ways, we agreed.

We started talking about creative writing and I gave him my card with the info about my e-book of short stories, told him how I had given up creative fiction years ago because of a rejection letter from Overland. They had said they have a policy of the three editors needing a unanimous acceptance from all three and on this occasion two liked my story a lot but the third was unsure, so no cigar. The customer said that sucked and said that he also didn't like how this particular litmag operated, said something about how they preferred to publish their mates' experimental work. Said something about how people like him were considered by them to be The Gatekeeper.

I wisely didn't say anything more about my own writing. I was more curious now about who he was, because it seemed like he was Someone.

I asked if he had stuff published and said sorry but I don't know who I am talking to. He said he had had about 15 books published. We chatted some more and I asked what his name was. Anthony, he told me. Okay, Anthony who? I asked. Anthony Lawrence, he told me.

I Googled. Oh, so he's kind of like the David Bowie of Australian poetry. There's all the awards, the critical acclaim, a novel and a stage play... we said goodbye, and he left telling me that we could talk about my stories next time he comes to the cafe.

He is all the writing success that I have not been. A properly humbling experience. Thank fuck my radar was up and I didn't talk myself up. Pretty funny, all in all. Kind of wish I hadn't mentioned my writing at all.