PLAYWAVE CREATIVE REVIEW: MAGGIE STONE
Reviewed by Brianna McCarthy
Maggie Stone is a play that speaks directly to its white Australian audience and engages courageously with the political and societal debates we are currently having. It takes advantage of the communicative and change making power of the theatre and truly deserves to have been produced on such a wide scale. Dealing with Australian attitudes towards refugees, the assumptions made and the nature of charity, this show surprised me with its motivation to make change and explicit engagement with the community it faces.
The first act shows its meaning quite simply. Prosper Deng, an African immigrant, applies for a loan from the bank through Maggie Stone. The audience gasps at her blatant rudeness towards the man and the many sentences that begin with “you people…”. The first moments of the play exhibited racism in pretty black and white terms; and as a result, the audience don’t like the white woman for being so mean to the black man. Being acutely aware of how the first moments of a play can establish the tone for the rest of it, I had prepared myself for discussion of racism on a superficial level. I was however surprised to see that the play then went on to ask more complex questions of our society; for example, how can we determine innocence in a world that is not simply black and white or good and evil?
The characters were complex and all lived within a grey area of morality. Each character seemed to be asking something I hadn’t quite considered in the discussion of Australia and its immigrants. Maggie asked if help could really be given to someone less fortunate without wanting anything in return. Georgina asked if doing good is still good when the motives behind it aren’t so. Benny asked if hardship in life could grant a person innocence from their crimes. Applying this to the discussion of national affairs, I didn’t leave the play with answers but rather a deeper understanding of the questions.
The performances were convincing enough and the dialogue felt natural. All of the cast seemed to be acting on the same level, so I felt a real unity within the world. Eliza Logan approached the role of Maggie Stone with courage and captured the upper middle class ocker with a superiority complex with honesty. She made her character extremely recognizable and held her up for scrutiny. I also appreciate that she didn’t want to make Maggie Stone likeable; it served the discussion of the play greatly.
Although the motivation of the play was very clear, I was not sold on the execution as the play went on. The final acts quickly became quite violent and melodramatic. Situations arose that I didn’t feel were realistic, for example when a mobster type was introduced and gave us the familiar “give me my money or I’ll kill your family” story line, followed by fake blood and choreographed fighting. There were also booming sfx and strobing lights during fight scenes that operated only to scare and shock the audience. The characters were no longer as familiar as our neighbours and became more like action film stars - there were even moments typical to action films that somehow made their way into the play, like a character holding another wounded and dying in their arms and reminiscing with them about the past until they go limp. It really felt like a “well that escalated quickly” series of events. From here I felt that the action had departed from the world it was to be reflective of and the questions I had been asking throughout were quickly cast aside.
Despite the strange place into which the action led itself, I still appreciate the play for its motivation in social justice issues and its diverse stories and casting. It was not shy to confront the society it developed from and gave us many perspectives from which to consider it. More than having seen some cool effects or heard some good jokes I love to leave the theatre having learned something I didn’t know. It’s what I believe is the most powerful thing that theatre can do and I am grateful that this show accomplished that. I appreciate also that it was wildly different in its subject matter than what is usually on the menu in big theatres like that of Darlinghurst.