This fringe has been so wonderful and on so many levels. I have been able to reconnect with my city of birth in a way that I never thought I would and I have met and witnessed some of the greatest artist and their work that this world has to offer – much of it grown right here, the majority of it grown in Australia at large. To say that I feel lucky is an understatement.
Last night I sat in excellence yet again. Yes, last night. It has taken me a full night to process and understand just what that excellence is, what it means and how it has affected me in all its beauty, trauma, suffering and even joy. It broke me. I needed to get broken though, it forces you to look at things, address those things that are lurking in the depths of your soul, too afraid to resurface because just the idea of unpacking them is enough to send you over the edge. The thought of writing this is bringing tears to my eyes as I remember the show’s star, Elaine Crombie tell the story of her one woman play “Janet’s Vagrant Love” with so much emotion and strength that I’m still trying to understand what we have done to deserve such an artist and her talent.
The play is essentially about one woman’s journey through humanity. Yes, it most definitely is through the eyes of an indigenous woman and some things are truly specific to the struggles that indigenous people face, things that the wider community needs to hear, see and pay more attention to. But it’s also a play about love, loss, childhood trauma, consent and more. All things that any and many humans can sadly relate to. There is so much I want to write, to go into detail with, but I am so invested in this piece of art that I will refrain as I need and want all to see this play, to experience what I and so many others have experienced. To be challenged and to ultimately consider another gaze that may not be yours.
What I will write about is Crombie’s ability to switch from comedy, to death, to trauma and all in the blink of an eye and in a way that is not only authentic in its delivery, but penetrates you to your very core. Her friendship with gay bestie Clyde was a love affair that only a gay man and his best girlfriend will ever truly understand and one, that should you be lucky enough to experience, is probably one of the easiest and most love fulfilled relationships any two humans can, or will ever have. I speak from experience. The emotional gamut that Crombie possesses is not only mind boggling, but something that could truly be described as a gift. At one point I wanted to sit there and yarn with her on the mattress, laugh with her and then in one swift heartbeat, I was crying with her as she spoke of loss and pain. I was emotionally exhausted, but at the same time in awe of her ability and craft as an actor to make myself and everyone in that theatre feel this.
Then there is THAT voice. Standing over a grave and singing a gospel hymn, the pain and cry for help that filled the Ngunyawaiti theatre at Tandanya was beyond compare. There were lighter moments of song, but it was the songs about the senseless killings of aboriginal teens like Elijah Doughty that not only commanded a silence in the room, but respect for those that have passed. The sound of people trying to catch their breath and the sting of salty tears running down cheeks was prevalent and a collective sense of grief. Even through the heavy themes like systemic racism, raising blak men and abuse, it was hard to not think that this pain, the pain of Aboriginal people at large, is not just systemic, but also inherited. As Crombie talked about her Mother’s connection to country (Uluru) and her Mother’s Mother and all the women that came before them, a sense of belonging was and is one of the most vital connections they all shared and something that clearly brought peace.
As the tears slowly stopped, Crombie decided that one final song, a song about her late friend Clyde was to be the finale and one that saw my eyes stinging again from the salty water falling from them. I had to look away from the stage. I couldn’t even contain myself with the things I was feeling, things I’m inept to articulate. Crombie is a story teller, one that has 60,000 years of history, culture and experience in telling stories passed down to her. “Janet’s Vagrant Love” is something beyond the constraints of what a play should be. It’s political. It’s heartfelt. It’s confronting. It’s complex. But most importantly it is a story of humanity and its creator and star is an example of what all humans could and should be; brilliant.