Margarite’s demons are catching up with her. A woman in her early 40’s with the energy to drink and dance the night away with a boyfriend who, while not that much younger than her, she treats like a refreshing boy toy, there’s something eating away at her that twists her joyful dancing into a frenetic sway. The stage at La Mama has been transformed into a gentlemen’s club, and it’s there, late at night with her boyfriend, Iain (Mike McEvoy), drunkenly watching the dancers, that Margarite’s (Andrea Close) memory is triggered. Twenty five years before, while still a schoolgirl, she gave birth, adopting the baby out straight after. She’s Not Performing portrays a segment, an impression of Margarite’s pain as she remembers her daughter, who should now be twenty five, and decides to search for her. As she slowly reconnects with the father of the child, Hamish (Christopher Bunworth), and increasingly alienates Iain, she finds herself drawn to the dancer she saw on that first night at the men’s club, a dancer, Annie (Rachel Purchase) who bears an uncanny resemblance to Margarite’s younger self. The character of Margarite is a bit refreshing; at the age of forty two she has not aged gracefully, and still messily navigates her way through the space. The dissonance in her character is a relief, but the relation of her character to the storyline is not. The subject matter of adoption is always going to be fraught, but She’s Not Performing is disturbing not because of its subject matter, but because of the inherently narcissistic motivations of the older characters. This would be an interesting bent if this narcissism was not also portrayed as heroic, moral and meaningful. Margarite is messed up because of the way society has moulded her into a type, a slut, and damaged goods. This, however, gives her the right to treat those around her as reflections and extensions of herself, characters, if you will, in her own psychodrama. This does well to create dramatic episodes, heighten the tension in a series of set pieces, but does nothing to make you sympathise with, or even like the main character. Margarite’s world is a vacuum, a slowly closing circle, with not even enough room for the idea that her daughter is a real person with her own agency. At no point does she speculate what sort of person her daughter might be. Instead she is thought of as an extension of Margarite, a reflection, demonstrated through the scenes she shares with the dancer in the strip club. She looks just like you. She is you. A handy metaphor for Margarite to confront her demons, to remonstrate against her fate using the figures of the ‘nice guy’ the ‘seemingly moral family man’ and ‘stripper’, to claw her way to some sort of peace and determination within herself in order to move forward. These are not, however, abstract characters. Rather they are people Margarite projects her anger and confusion onto. Demeaning her boyfriend, having flagrant disregard for the feelings and welfare of the dancer she ‘befriends’, Margarite’s hell is extended to anyone whose life she touches, especially for those who care for her. The peace she comes to towards the end of the play is at the cost of everyone around her, a note you feel is supposed to be poignant and determined, but left me feeling frustrated at the obsessive use of possessive nouns around an abstract figure, a daughter that is decided upon as Margarite’s salvation, whether she wants it or not.
She’s Not Performing at LA MAMA THEATRE A Doll and Soulart Production A New Play bby Alison Mann (Winner Melbourne Dramatist’s Emerging Playwrights’ Award 2008) Directed by Kelly Somes With Christopher Bunworth, Andrea Close, Mike McEvoy, Rachel Purchase August 18 – September 5