Friday, September 12, 2014
The Blue Room and TEEM Productions present Eva Johnson’s What Do They Call Me?, originally a one-woman show, here presented by three young women, Ebony McGuire, Amy Smith, and Alyssa Thompson under the direction of Eva Grace Mullaley. First written and performed by the author herself in the early ’90s, What Do They Call Me? explores race, sexuality and family through the perspective of three Aboriginal women, a mother and her two daughters. Johnson’s exploration of the effects of the Stolen Generation on these three characters continues to prove itself a relevant and important story to tell.
The piece begins with the mother Connie, portrayed by Amy Smith, who we learn has been jailed for some offense, and who makes a harrowing account of a lifetime of being abused and cast out. Despite having been marginalised, beaten, and having her children taken from her, she still has a fighting spirit which Smith conveys with fierceness and conviction. Smith keeps proving herself as a versatile interpreter of character with this role, and she elicits a great deal of sympathy for this poor mother, whose life sounds like a living hell.
We then meet the first daughter, Regina, a social worker in the midst of an identity crisis. She’s learned that she’s Aboriginal and is struggling with coming to terms with that knowledge. Assimilating this new identity causes her a great deal of emotional anguish, as she is forced to confront her own prejudices and her self-worth. Alyssa Thompson is an interesting choice to portray this character, as she seems different from how the character describes herself physically. However, this misalignment only serves as a reminder for us to think beyond appearances and look closer at what makes up a person’s character.
Finally, we meet the second daughter, Alison, played by Ebony McGuire; she is a lesbian activist whose personal struggles involve being in a biracial relationship. Her partner’s friends treat her in a certain way that makes her feel like a token black person rather than a whole person in her own right. She remarks about pictures of Aboriginal women on radical white women’s walls with some disdain, and begins to question her place amongst these other activists, whose perspectives are so different from her own. McGuire gives a moving, fluid performance, with tremendous self-assurance, dignity, and even some of her mother’s fierceness.
These three perspectives on the Stolen Generation were written over 20 years ago, but the subject matter remains relevant; the inner turmoil these women experience is timeless and because of this, the story is current. It is ever apparent that these stories of Aboriginal identity, racial injustice and sexuality still need to be told, just as clearly and sincerely as Mullaley has done here, but far more often. The one thought that kept ringing in my head after the show finished was more, more, more!