In the balcony

It's time to give the plants a drink.
In the balcony I pour water into 
soil, wait for excess to drain.
Day is giving way to dark:
a clear deep blue on the northern sky.
Above the jacaranda trees, a bird
sails home, an orange tissue
crumples the air.
Indoors are photographs of those I miss:
Mum posing in a kimono.
And there is Dad who would tickle the spaces
between my ribs as I spun on the floor --
tied to my body where his fingers held me
-- then flew apart.
Music flows from the heart
of the house to every room.
Things are just as I've left them.
Stew is simmering on the stove.
Salad servers stick out of 
the wooden bowl. Rainbow 
of vegetables tossed and relaxed.
I tilt the watering-can over the last pot of herbs,
the distant oak now full of night, as a star
presses his gentle face into the sky.
I want to go inside and smell my dinner.
I want to light my candles, while the earth
slows down to breathe, until they begin
to tell their good stories in soft low voices.

Book review: The Forgotten Waltz

A dose of sobering responsibility sinks into the central character — anti-heroine for some, heroine for others — of Anne Enright’s novel, The Forgotten Waltz.

While this might sound like a spoiler, for a story about adultery and easy love, it is no more than the author declares on the back cover: If it hadn’t been for the child, then none of this might have happened. She saw me kissing her father. She saw her father kissing me. The fact that a child got mixed up in it all made us feel that it mattered, that there was no going back.

It is 2009, and Dublin is seeing her first snows. Thirty-four year-old Gina Moynihan has been tasked with meeting Evie, her lover’s adolescent daughter, after school. Sean Vallely, the father, is delayed by the weather in another city. Although we will not read about this, nor have any idea about the relationship-dynamics involved until the latter part of the book, there are early signs things the way they have unfolded are not what Gina could have imagined.

Five years following an initial encounter in 2002, Gina, newly married, becomes irresistibly attracted to the family-man Sean who, more than fifteen years her senior, lives down the road from her sister. As the interest progresses to flirtation, and desire, then full-blown obsession, Enright chooses the names of songs as headings for her chapters: Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Everytime We Say Goodbye, Stop! In the Name of Love.

In the tumultuous seas of longing and misgivings, the author offers the pair a plethora of opportunities to shift course and salvage their separate matrimonies. But, despite their best effort, not for the lack of trying, both remain wilfully helpless to their irresistible passion: At the train station, I sat in the car and said to him, “No more”… By Mullinger I thought, if I did not see him soon again, that I would surely die.

This physiology of love develops against the backdrop of the Global Financial Crisis, in which Ireland’s economy, that is hitherto riding the surging waves of technology and real estate and open-market optimism, collapses into a free-fall, and crisis of confidence. Observations can be made on a delicate correlation between the fiscal trajectory and the evolution of the romantic affair.

By the time money in the country has dissipated like vapour, rupturing the dream of a fortune from selling her late-mother’s family-home, Gina realises the one for whom she has left her husband regards her as “secondary” — particularly to his child. It must be said, however, that Enright is never heavy-handed in drawing these parallels.

The time of snowy-white solitude Gina finds at her disposal, presently, when Sean is away, frames her reflections on the recent time with him, and her former marriage, and childhood, that, told in flashbacks, make us empathise with her one moment and loathe her the next. Confusion and guilt, endless attempts at self-assurance and quiet resignation inform her emotional journey. Finally, aimed at honouring her love, Gina resolves to gather a deeper understanding of Evie; for in spite of its melancholy-title, The Forgotten Waltz is a love-story, after all.

With writerly skill, Enright pays no respect to chronology in her story-telling. The narrative traverses with her mind to what place or year on which her thoughts decide to rest. Fragments about coping with Evie at home juxtapose with memories of her own father; shadows of her mother’s ghost jostle against Sean’s presence in the house.

It is one of those books where there is a reason to every word. The imagery is vivid and hefty with meaning.: The [hotel] room was impossible to find. I had to walk miles of corridor, go up in one lift, and down in a different one…Apparently it was all easy to find from the outside.

Enright constructs a desultory and remarkably precise psychological drama in which outside events constantly echo inner scenes. It is a tender, humane, and visceral work that leaves an unmistakeable scent of sycamore in the air.

(Digital) Theatre review: The Mermaid

Social defiance swims through The Mermaid, a play produced and performed by a cast of teenagers at the La Mama. The mermaid is turning 15, and she finds herself increasingly intrigued by the world up on-shore. Humans, she learns, despite dying young, have souls that go on for eternity. Mer-people, by contrast, live for 300 years, upon which their spirits become seaweed, that once cut down are lost forever.

Izzy Roberts-Orr’s text is well-researched, and, given its desultory nature, deftly managed. The piece is divided into sections, each introduced with narration (by the performers in turn) that makes references to, amongst a host of random facts, 1837 — the year Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid was released, –1989 — when Disney produced its feature animation, — and the much-violated sculpture of the mythological character in Copenhagen today.

Ingeniously, Cassandra Fumi’s production is staged in a dry, sunken pool, where the actors dance and caper and sing. In the small theatre, seating tightly encircles the glittering space (magically lit by Rachel Burke), with the effect of making the live audience on my digital screen look like more mer-citizens.

Through their reimagining of this epic fairy-tale, the theatre-makers show us how they embrace the story’s particular elements while questioning others. By including performers of different skin tones and gender-types and cultural backgrounds, the drama demonstrates that hybridity explored in the fable no doubt resonates with the current society. The unfettered twisting of its plot, however, emphasises in no uncertain way that “the damsel in distress” stereotype has long since evolved out of existence. Mentions of Taylor Swift, Zoom stock prices, climate change protests provide further definition to this century’s youth-community.

Sure, the recorded form of the act is most likely its diluted version; we do not get to experience the energy and verve of proximity. But, this is a thoughtful little piece showcasing the intricacy and identity and zeitgeist of the generation, delivered with a dazzlingly original touch.

(Digital) Theatre review: Berlin

If you are going to stage a romantic thriller do it in the Sumner; better still, film, and turn it digital. The intimate confines of the Southbank theatre, not least our screen constraints, are perfectly suited for the sort of dangerous, intriguing, and sexy interplay that pheromonal busyness often engenders. And the blistering performances in Iain Sinclair’s production of Joanna Murray-Smith’s play rivet your eyes on the action, as history and philosophy and emotions converge with devastating consequences.

The sexually-attracted pair are Tom (Michael Wahr) and Charlotte (Grace Cummings). He is an Australian law-school dropout newly arrived in Berlin to find himself. She is a published poet who works in a bar, where this night Tom issues carnal signals in her direction.

Despite an initial lukewarm response Charlotte invites the lonesome stranger into her loft apartment that, sensual in Christina Smith’s set design, is where we meet them. They drink beer and flirt and recite poetry: “I want my conscience to be true before you,” repeats Tom, after his female companion, as she reels off Rilke halfway up the stairs to her resting-lair. In a heart-to-heart moment, there is a touching exchange of tragic stories in each of their lives, which leads to an exploration into some pretty fascinating metaphysical concepts.

Following a night of heady passion, though, a series of mysterious calls to Tom’s cellphone, and to the lodging’s intercom system — plus his frantic urgings for her to flee overseas with him — raise Charlotte’s suspicion. As she probes and he evades, they find themselves over the course of the drama debating the political and socio-cultural legacy of Germany’s troubled past. Should the nation be in a permanent state of contrition? Does this perpetual remembering not mean murdering the victims again and again? When will the quest for justice end? The stronger her polemic, however, the farther Charlotte’s new beau seems to pull away.

As always, Murray-Smith’s writing is fabulous: fast, ferocious, and at times brilliantly funny. What holds it back is the implausibility of the plot that, after starting out in the most credible way, twists, then descends into the unconvincing. It feels like an elaborate device to play out the writer’s own thoughtful, unanswered, inquiry. But the acting is first-rate and highly charged. With the chemistry scorching between them, Cummings’ Charlotte is seductive one moment, and distraught incredulity the next, while Wahr gives Tom a memorable journey. Ultimately, Berlin is a work that provides us with fine fodder upon which to chew during this period of isolation and struggle.

(Digital) Theatre review: Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes

Izabella Yena, a relatively new-comer in the Melbourne theatre-scene, is fast becoming one of our most promising and precise performers. She has the capacity to suggest a character is carrying emotion, like an overfilled vase, and dare not lose control for a moment; yet, the rising star is able to pierce through darkness to illuminate the depths of human condition. An award-winning actor, Dan Spielman, for his part, is a recognised-face in entertainment, his talent having permeated both television and film for decades. Now, they have been given the fragilities of flawed-roles to play. And, yes, how they occupy them, and my digital screen.

Spielman and Yena portray a “rockstar” professor/author and first-year university pupil at the heart of Sexual Misconduct of the Middle-Classes, a work by Canadian playwright, Hannah Moscovitch. The action finds itself in 2014, three years before the #MeToo movement, that has unleashed a global torrent of allegations and repercussions right up to the present-day. You would not receive any prize to accurately guess at the plot of the story.

Freshly separated from his third wife, Jon laments a life suffering from choices he has had to make in circumstances beyond his control. As though to prove his point, the Creative Writing teacher becomes mesmerised by a young woman, whose red coat captures his attention, and pushes through from the periphery of his vision on to the front-row seat of the room in which he lectures, then into the student accommodation beside his own residence. Resistance driven by sloppy self-control copulates with desire when Annie, as she introduces herself, declares to be an adoring fan of his acclaimed novels.

But develop it does, a sexual relationship between them, and a consensual one, that is clear, with Annie showing every eagerness to please, as she unbuckles his belt, crouching below Jon, her bare-skin beneath his billowing over-sized shirt, afterwards. Lust sobers up into anxiety for the academic, however, that their affair might be discovered, with professional consequences. “We cannot keep meeting in my house,” asserts Jon, in a hotel room, to his imploding paramour, for whom the fog of giddy-infatuation suddenly lifts.

In the hands of director Petra Kalive, this jadedly-lurid cautionary tale — so recycled its carbon footprint must be zero — meant (supposedly) to expose the predatory ways of powerful men, turns into a hearing in which the plaintiff’s voice is all but muted. Spielman’s Jon, through his unremitting soliloquy and rakish charm, coaxes us to empathise with his change of mind, and to contemplate the wisdom of perpetuating the liaison. Then, when she is afforded the time to speak, Annie leaves us to question whether her aggrievement has arisen, really, from feelings after a breakup, or unmatched degree of affection. The final disclosure only makes the production more baffling.

Obviously, the show is held together by the theatre-makers’ choice of two superb casts: Yena — bashful, volatile, vulnerable; Spielman — ruminative, self-loathing, with a sense of entitlement. Their gifted skills, unfortunately, have been squandered into vindicating the very contempt for women the staging presumably seeks to satirise.

Animosity

I believe you are not happy
I believe you have gone to the edges of yourself, and
   what is in the centre is anyone's guess: nothing -- 
   that is one answer
   -- or, nothing much
I believe peace, disappointed in you,
   has long left your side
I believe loneliness is your most faithful companion
I believe connection is never a game
   you can play without stumbling
I believe fake riches are as woeful
   as the people they seduce
I believe you are a fugitive 
   of reality
I believe distractions and delusion are staples
   in your daily diet
I believe at dawn you cannot face yourself
   in the shaving mirror
I believe at night you lie down none the wiser
   and unassuaged
Superficial, Synthetic, Scared

Alpha

The rouge of leaves and trees
so voluptuous
as if this autumn the first autumn

The wind blows
making gathers on the lake
this day the first day

A pair of green birds
so happy and so in love
lift off a bough

soaring toward the sky
everywhere orange, blue, green,
red, purple, yellow all at once

This sunset the first sunset

Cyclamen

This morning
the sun strokes me with the back of his fingers

and I open --
a spread of folds,
blushing pink
-- and all day butterflies land on me

burrowing through curves and creases
into my deepest universe
as they lust after the sweet juice, then
carry away with them,

in their quest for world domination,
and all day
with the playful wind
like a candle flame at dusk

I curl and lean
my slender body of stem
that holds
all that wetness and adventure

gently and softly. So,
here I am:
un-shy, unclosed, honest. And
you? Do you love yourself?

Do you embrace your simple life
and its impulses
to be untamed and sublime for a while
before nothingness keeps its due appointment?

Metta

Today at daybreak walking on the footpath
the air brisk upon my face, first

across the quiet road, down the avenue
stepping on young-autumn leaves,

past a cat on a roof, then round a corner
I gaze forth toward the sky. The moon --

wide, generous, exuberant, so large
and so low I could touch it, like a window

opened in the dark expanse to reveal
your face. I pause

in this moment of my strides, and 
I say a prayer of gratitude, of

affection, and good wishes:

May you be happy, may you be free from fear
May you be healthy, may you be safe