With a sophistication that belies the craftiness of the achievement, Tracy Crisp and Rita Papillo have written two very different plays that portray the realities of female middle age with a combination of biting wit and warm generosity.
Crisp has honed her highly successful An Evening with the Vegetarian Librarian into an even sharper form to open this night of piercing yet sensitive social commentary. The third instalment of her trilogy-turned-quartet of wry monologues sees her explore themes of memory, identity and the importance of story with her trademark voice of droll insight and sardonic social satire.
Alone on stage, Crisp perches on the edge of a desk flanked by library trolleys stacked with books and, within a few sentences, has taken us back to her childhood. Her mother is reading her The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek and she evokes the scene so viscerally we are there with her, feeling the heat from the glowing radiator bars and the scratch of the melting synthetic nightie on her legs.
It’s a pivotal moment, the birth of her love of words and recognition of the power of story. It’s also a touching springboard into the rest of the piece, which blends memoir with fiction into an uproariously insightful day in the life (and death) of a librarian.
Rife with literary puns, HR-humour and hilarious observations on being the Gen X meat in the intergenerational sandwich between Boomers and Millennials, Crisp’s performance brilliantly uses humour to couch a more poignant and profound story. At heart, this piece is about how books, both as objects and the vessels of stories, link us back to our family histories and help us forge our identities as we mature.
The protagonist in The Pash is from the same generation as Crisp’s librarian, yet Papillo’s brilliant new theatre piece delves into the worldview of a middle-aged Adelaidean woman using a refreshingly quirky take on the traditional monologue.
Set among the social buzz of Adelaide’s Fringe and Festival, The Pash follows a woman over a spontaneous night out, culminating with an unexpected and passionate encounter with a stranger.
The magic of Papillo’s script is in the way she uses two different actors to slip the audience into her protagonist’s head. Actor Katie O’Reilly wonderfully embodies the public face of the protagonist, with all her social awkwardness and wonderful expressions. Yet the character’s inner thoughts and the way she experiences the world is narrated with wry warmth, perception and a strong emoji-game by the brilliant Lucy Slattery. Ria Loof completes the trio, providing the soundtrack with her gorgeous voice and ukulele accompaniment.
Papillo’s perceptive script in O’Reilly and Slattery’s hands creates a consummate representation of the way ageing diminishes not just a woman’s visibility in the modern world – it also the erodes her sense of self. Under Nikki Allen’s skilful direction, The Pash reveals how one powerful moment in which a person is truly seen and heard can be more than energising – it can be transformative.
The Pash is a deeply funny and truly original take on how visibility and social currency depreciates with age, and the power of human connection to reinvigorate not just our creative selves but ultimately our capacity for kindness.
Together, An Evening with the Vegetarian Librarian and The Pash make for an unmissable night of heartfelt yet biting comedic writing.
An Evening with the Vegetarian Librarian and The Pash are being presented by Dusty Reds at Holden Street Theatres until April 10.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.