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“Maggie Stone” is a great intersection of time and place, where the bias in the narrative spookily echoes what we tolerate in our everyday lives.
In a year where the Royal Commission into banking has highlighted inconsistencies and bias, and the world has continued to watch how Australia responds to the refugee crisis, Caleb Lewis’ Maggie Stone is an apt production to include in Darlinghurst Theatre’s 2018 season. The first production ran in 2013 and featured Kris McQuade as the bitter, resentful and racist Maggie who learns a powerful lesson about the consequences of desperation. As a huge McQuade fan, I couldn’t envision being equally as impressed by Eliza Logan, yet the moment she took a bite into her burger and stared across the desk at a desperate man who is determined to leave with an $800 loan, I was 100% in to go along for the ride. The uncomfortable exchange results in Maggie denying him this loan, based on his skin colour, and I imagine a sense of power at knowing that what she chooses to punch into her computer determines the outcomes of another human’s life.
The play then unfolds as a Maggie, keen to secure professional redemption rather than moral, becomes a part of Amath’s new and unstable life in Australia, barely coping after the death of her husband, a difficult teenager and the demands of a baby – with little to no money but a strong repulsion towards acts of conditional generosity. The play highlights the often misguided attempts by wealthier members of society who look upon the giving of $5 into a donation box as evidence of their morality, all while the needs of those in close proximity continually reach desperate heights. The play takes a dramatic turn as we learn not only of Amath’s history in Sudan, and the path she was on that led her to marry her husband, but also the humanity in Maggie’s own frail social network – one that mirrors her health. Both Maggie’s personal life and health have been framed by a sense of distance, resentment, hardness and callous flippancy. We learn very quickly the coincidental nature of Maggie’s history with her brother and loanshark friend, and Amath’s link to an unforgiving and dangerous character. We watch as desperation highlights the ease in a person, disenfranchised from society, succumbing to the exact narrative the suspicious environment around them cultivates. We also become witness to how easily a seemingly generous act can uncover murky intentions and disastrous results.
Caleb’s play is a powerful Australian story that pieces together a fragmented society that is often built on fear, misunderstanding and a distinct lack of belonging at the mercy of powerful institutions and corrupt people. The moments of community that this play showcases indicate the very human need to be of value despite at times being underpinned by desperation due to spiralling circumstances. This is indicated in the value systems of both Amath and Maggie, despite differing intentions and opposing outcomes.
Eliza Logan ensures an impressive and haunting raw performance that brings to the surface for many watching, the biases and cruel reactions humans can have – all the while, telling a story that is very often glossed over by not seeing the full scope of a crisis situation. We often feel empathy or outrage at others in times of crisis, but in the characters’ telling of many stories, Maggie Stone ends right at the very point that requires the most important element of acclimation: what happens next; what happens when our lives integrate and what happens when we recognise that it is no longer possible to walk away from a scenario that could be changed simply by a more understanding approach?
Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 30 to Oct 21, 2018
Cast: Eliza Logan, Kate Bookallil, Branden Christine, Alan Dukes, Anna Lee, Thuso Lekwape
Playwright: Caleb Lewis
Director: Sandra Eldridge