The Dreamers by Jack Davis. Directed by Wesley Enoch. Starring Rachael Mazza and Kevin Smith.Company B Belvoir at Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney, March 27 - April 21, 2002, 8pm.
Reviewing The Price (Ensemble Theatre, Sydney) recently, I lamented the lack of an Australian Arthur Miller. This production of The Dreamers (1982) has put me to shame. Noongar Aboriginal writer Jack Davis (1917-2000) proves to be our equivalent of Miller, Tennessee Williams and the seminal Irish playwright J.M.Synge all rolled into one.
Belvoir B's 2002 program is, I think, the most worth subscribing to within easy reach of Canberra: to come are David Hare, Patrick White, Sam Shepard and new Sydney writer Valentina Levkowicz. There is still time to catch The Dreamers.
Enoch notes "The chance to return to such classic Indigenous plays, as The Dreamers, helps us see what the future can be. They become the measure by which we mark how much we've grown or not. These plays are our history, a written and spoken account of our world. We sit and watch our aunts and cousins and uncles and grandparents played out through these characters on stage, not always how we would want ourselves portrayed but with honesty - warts and all. How else can we change?" With advice from the respected Noongar theatre artist Lynette Narkle, Enoch has created a fitting memorial to the passing of Jack Davis, who wrote and then played the original Uncle Worru 20 years ago.
Here we see the sad ending of an honorable everyman under pressure from insensitive society, just like Willy Loman in Miller's Death of a Salesman - and with just as much power in Dolly's final speech as in Linda Loman's last lament. Rachael Mazza brings out Dolly's all-enduring strength, her humour, and her understanding of reality as if such acting is simple to achieve. But we all had tears welling as she carried in Uncle Worru's shoes to symbolically pass on to the next generation. And I have to say I found Kevin Smith's Uncle Worru much more endearing than the salesman in Miller's play.
Then this production shows a play of memories, so much like Williams' The Glass Menagerie - with characters' evocative speeches half out of the frame of the play, yet within it and reflecting on it - that the effect on me was quite eerie. Encompassing all is music and dance of the dreaming, so strongly reminiscent of Synge's Deirdre of the Sorrows and the sense that the ancient spirits are drawing the old man away. Uncle Worru, like Deirdre, teaches us to "draw a little back with the squabbling of fools when I am broken up with misery" and can equally say "I have put away sorrow like a shoe that is worn out and muddy, for it is I have had a life that will be envied by great companies."
To create an Indigenous play so meaningful across ancient and modern cultures is a great wonder. I respect the earlier generation of Jack Davis's era who often had to relearn their own languages and teach themselves the ways of non-indigenous theatre; and now the generation of thoroughly professional performers represented in this production of The Dreamers, where truth is experienced as it should be in the theatre.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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