This much is True – Hearkening back to a restricted discourse. (Theatre review)
This Much is True
Red line Productions 12 Julyy – 12 August
The Old Fitz
In world obsessed with the “limitations” of so called political correctness, it is a sophisticated pleasure to toddle along to Louis Nowra’s play This Much IS True for a reminder of how restricted speech used to be and how far we have come in opening up the public discourse. The Old Fitz curiously curates a program that takes it cue from the playground: we have one play for the boys, then one for the girls, then one for the boys and one for the girls and so on. Perhaps not so curiously this actually works, and I confess that I always know they have “something for Lisa” around the corner no matter what I sit through in their offer. Be warned, theatre lover, this is not a “play for Lisa,” but I feel compelled to speak, so take my words for the useless opinion they are and move forward with caution or close me down in cheerful disdain. There! You’ve been warned.
Louis Nowra sat in a pub for (one presumes) at least a year and didn’t see a female unless she had a dick or poured him a beer. This is an instance, however, when this sort of blindness is an advantage, for the efforts to un-see those he writes about gives the thinking female pause for thanks that we slipped under his patchy observations. If the primary criticism of political correctness is that it presupposes elitism in the observer over the observed, This Much Is True exposes what it replaced – a narrative that adheres to an elitism in the observer over the observed. The difference here is one of progression. The white male narrative used to imagine itself as an impartial observer. Political correctness has revealed that it is not, while equally revealing that its efforts to label something or name something are partial. Of course our speech is restricted now. But it’s far less restricted than it ever has been before.
This Much Is True reveals this inherent bias in the male gaze via the conceit of the “bohemian” life. The play presumes “Breaking Bad meets Pricilla Queen of the Desert” is wild and dangerous, that stereotype is some form of lucidity and that the same behaviours (precisely) are not being metered out a few blocks away in Paddington or among the ranks of merchant bankers. Pointedly, Louis is present as a silent observer at every gathering, yet as the play unfolds and each character is represented as a single dimension stereotype gleaned from free to air media over the last ten years. It seems This Much Is True’s real point is that TV can happen in the theatre too, but this is only true if we plaster television over what we see – life being forced to imitate art as it were. This observation in the corner of each scene in This Much Is True then becomes a symbol of the oppressive gaze, the way that a person is appropriated for a broader objective. In the case of this writer, his need to convince everyone (himself) that his white middle class life in one of the richest most affluent cities in the world is really bohemia.
For this reason, it is a mercy that the living breathing thinking female is invisible for this play. Everyone is appropriated for Louis’ attempt at describing a “truth” that serves him. Art has not been used to describe the world around him it is being used to justify a world he prefers. This has its own integrity provided it is seen for what it is – one man’s attempt to skew the narrative to a version that serves him. When it is taken out of this context (and here lies the real rub) we get into hot water. Political Correctness gives us the tools to weaken this voice, to reduce it from the pointed finger of god to its genuine humanity. When people cry political correctness prevents them from naming something they are absolutely accurate. I will be ignored by this writer, but I refused to be named by him. He has lost that power, and I applaud a world that reveals this to us.
It is under this guise that This Much Is True, when reduced to its flagrant humanness, becomes a thing of beauty. This is not a play about a string of characters in a pub. It’s a play about a white male middle class baby boomer lost in a translation he can’t recognise. It is an attempt to reclaim a power in a beautiful dream that is officially over, even though the dreamer doesn’t know. It’s a symbol of a time when rose coloured glasses were the only way to see, and to label something was to genuinely claim it. If woman is the not-man, her refusal to be that calls masculinity itself into question, and it is this portion of the contemporary narrative that is missing. In This Much Is True, Louis Nowra openly longs for a time past, revealing himself to us in a stripped down naked claim. A white male’s last attempt to claim the god given right to name all the creatures under his command. It is a play that harkens back to a time when one minority ruled us all and controlled all our speech without question.
Women are not masochists, they are kind, and true to that I will tell you there is plenty to see in this play that is worth the journey to the beautiful Old Fitz. It is laced with a nostalgia for another era and filled with naive stereotypes, but they are well performed stereotypes. Toby Schmitz directs with a snoozy warmth that gives off that cozy safety we good white folk love to feel, but the actors take up the slack with power house performances that inject energy and life where possible into the characters. Anna Gardiners set is stunning and warmly recognisable in this sweet world, and one of the most important reasons to attend this play.
This Much Is True isn’t a play for me – my demographic – and I can’t ignore its problems. But apparently other people go to theatre too, and many of those will be able to enjoy its comedy and clever lines. Theatre is about many voices, and the evolution of a narrative discourse. We see This Much Is True for what it is now, a fantasy that can’t possibly represent every perspective. Nor does it have to.
Vive la difference!