The AmphiTheatre – located just on the edge of the Botanic Garden – is a beautiful site for storytelling.
Baby, What Blessings begins just after night has properly fallen. When the audience settles on the concrete steps that look down over the little plaza that doubles as a stage, the pounding din from Gluttony and the Garden of Unearthly Delights is far enough away to recede into the background. Instead, the sounds of the surprisingly large grey-headed flying foxes heading out to hunt are the pre-cursor to this one-person show.
The spot feels ready-made for introspection, and that’s what the work promises. Baby, What Blessings, written by UK playwright Siofra Dromgoole, is a monologue from protagonist Billie about her first love that doubles as a cautionary tale on the myopia of white privilege.
Performed by South Australian actor Katherine Sortini, the piece has an energy that suits the young-adult world it represents – there’s a desperate intensity to Sortini’s version of Billie that authentically reflects the trials and tribulations of being in your early 20s. But there’s also an unnerving lack of balance in the performance that borders on overbearing.
Competently directed by fellow South Australian actor Kidaan Zelleke in her directorial debut, Sortini at times seems uncomfortable with being small on stage. The acting isn’t bad. In parts it’s excellent. But there’s almost too much of it. The performance leaves no room for the audience to turn inward and line the story up against their own worldview.
There’s also an essential flaw in Dromgoole’s text that no amount of good direction or performing can navigate around. Billie – a white woman – is telling the story about her relationship with Amal – a Black man. She unpacks how her narcissism has enabled her complicity in racism. Given this is the axis on which the work spins, Billie’s solo perspective in the show feels inherently strange. There is diversity in the South Australian team that brings this season to the stage and there’s no doubt been discussions on this issue. But whatever resolution was made doesn’t translate to the audience – the play still feels like an example of the phenomenon it sets out to critique.
Baby, What Blessings centres the viewpoint of a white character in a conversation about racism. In 2021, we’re more than ready to hear other voices.
Baby, What Blessings is showing in The AmphiTheatre at Black Box Theatres until March 21.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.