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Real hope

Review: Sista Girl –
Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company and State Theatre Company of South Australia –
Subiaco Theatre Centre –
August 10 –
Review by Varnya Bromilow

It’s becoming so easy to be misanthropic.  As humans continue to spread across the planet; as we cram ourselves into smaller and smaller spaces that require a kind of cohabitation many of us chafe at; as the U.S. opts to elect a madman as a leader…I’ll stop myself here.  Suffice to say, hope is in chronic undersupply at present.  Amidst the downtrodden-ness of it all, it’s a rare and glorious thing to stumble upon art that opts for hope rather than despair.  There’s a moment mid-way through Sista Girl when one of the protagonists, Georgie Morelli, has an unexpected revelation sitting on a bus.

“I love all these people!”  She says, half laughing.  Georgie has been marvelling at the mix of cultures on the bus.  In fact, she’s been slagging several of them off, (a couple of white bogan dudes up the back of the bus draw particular ire) but as they sit stalled in traffic she has a sudden and overwhelming feeling of fondness of all these disparate creatures, gathered in this place.  It’s a beautiful scene, reminding us of the potency of art in pointing out the strange wonder of our common humanity.

Sista Girl is a co-production of Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company and the State Theatre Company of South Australia.  Written by acclaimed Indigenous writer, Alexis West and talented playwright (and former actor) Elena Carapetis, it’s a tale of two young  women from two minority cultures.  Nakisha Grey is a proudly successful  Indigenous woman who works with her father in a mining business while Georgie Morelli is an unemployed woman of Italian heritage, devoted to her Nonna but otherwise a little aimless.  The play is a simple character study, dealing with complex themes.  Our fear of the other; what success means; what constitutes family.  It’s a lot to pack into a one-act two-hander, but despite some initial awkwardness, the work comes off as deeply genuine.

Nakisha Grey is a character we don’t see enough of in Australian performance.  She is fiercely ambitious, successful, proud and at times, quite unpleasant.  Nakisha’s searing disdain for dominant white culture and their “Burnt Sausage Day” (aka Australia Day) is vividly portrayed by Sharni McDermott, who was thrust into the role at the last minute when Natasha Wanganeen withdrew due to a family tragedy.  McDermott is angry, filled with eloquent rage against the culture that tried to eradicate her people, but she’s also a player.  Pragmatic to the core, we meet Nakisha on her way to an Australia Day BBQ in order to get a mining deal signed.  (She even dons a t-shirt with a blinged-up Aussie flag for the event).  Driving her BMW, she is arrogant and indignant…the world owes her and she is out to call in the debt.  Although clearly nervous at first, McDermott channels this energy into a teetering, passionate performance.  It’s the kind of Indigenous representation that continues to be underrepresented on our stages and screens – real, driven, distinctly unsaintly.

Georgie, by contrast, is nothing but likeable.  Nadia Rossi has a true gift for comedy and the writers have given her ample opportunity to break out her tricks in this role.  Glammed up in her glittering tracksuit, candid about her lack of prospects or ambition, Georgie provides flashes of giggling respite from the play’s heavier themes.  Which is not to say she’s all lightness – Georgie has been dealt a poor hand – abandoned by her father at six and regularly enduring racism as a “white wog” (as Nakisha calls her).  It’s a less fearful, less destructive form of racism than that experienced by Nakisha, but it’s marked her nonetheless.

The play picks up steam during the latter half when the two women meet.  The exchanges between the two are notable for their race-tinged rancour and again, it’s refreshing to see this onstage.  The dialogue feels true, their hurts are raw and their experiences perhaps not as different as they first seem.  As they parry and quarrel, we see evidence of their disadvantage but we also see grit and passion and humour.  Sparse staging and subtle direction by Kyle Morrison largely leaves the two actors to their own devices as they bring the 50 minute play to what feels like an abbreviated conclusion.

Sista Girl is not a flawless theatrical experience…it’s a little rough around the edges.  But certainly it feels real and culturally relevant in a way that much of Australian theatre does not.

Sista Girl plays Subiaco Theatre Centre until 19 August.

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