May 19, 2018
A migrant story.
Sense of belonging.
These are merely a few terms that come to mind when trying to determine the coordinates of the territory “Going Down” covers.
What starts off as a vibrant, engaging play with the ever exuberant Catherine Davies harnessing the hurricane that is the main protagonist’s personality and her enjoyment of sex, which the main protagonist penned in her first literary emission Banana Girl, evolves in no time to culminant, well scripted journey that subtly tells a cultural identify story while defying the cookie-cutter formula of the genre.
The story does not follow the narrative of the myriad of “preaching to the converted” Gutmensch plays, but resonates on a much deeper level.
Set against the backdrop of Melbourne with tongue-in-cheek references to its idiosyncratic suburbs and cliché riddles representatives of its respective subcultures and their natural habitats, Hmong-Australian novelist Natalie Yang incarnates in the world of writing via her first matter-of-fact memoir, which in essence is an accumulation of descriptive accounts of her sexual exploits.
What follows is her journey, which starts from an angle of self-absorbed rebellion for rebellion’s sake against the confines of pigeon-holing and the inner workings and safe formulas with which fundamental issues are usually tackled with, e.g. incorporating the right ingredients to a migrant story to make it palatable to a predominantly white mainstream audience to make them feel good about themselves by avoiding any confrontation.
Natalie Yang’s counterpart and the embodiment of mainstream writing, i.e. literary darling Lu Lu Jayard, is masterfully portrayed by Jenny Wu, who, like all protagonists of the evening, incarnates in a variety of roles, including some intentionally silly yet highly entertaining cameos.
Compelling Naomi Rukavina, the hilarious Josh Price and Paul Blenheim complete the cast for five with nuanced and humorous performances, set in scene by Director Leticia Caceres.
What makes Going Down work on different levels is that it is a journey of self-discovery and the way it not only points out the obvious, but also manages to question your own self-imposed labels as well as the self-righteousness we pride ourselves with.
Starting off as a cheerful, at times cartoonish sex comedy and sardonic satire of racial stereotypes and hipster culture, framed by the The Sisters Hayes’s clever stage design and serenaded by sounds by The Sweats and lighting courtesy of Sian James-Holland, the story comes full circle at the end, embracing what seems contradictive at first in a tender and affective way, while never losing steam in the process.
While playwright Michele Lee proffers plenty of food for thought with her autobiographical approach, the energetic performances of the ensemble bring the rich play to life without lingering too long on mere topical issues. The fact that Lee’s play would have worked even without the emotional resolution at the end, speaks volumes about its quality.
Going Down is certainly not reinventing the wheel of the classic migration-and-return drama, but it offers a fresh, ambitious and different perspective on the complex and difficult task of endeavoring to craft a story independently from your cultural identity and more specifically, carving your way as an Asian migrant in Australia, i.e. what has become labeled as the “migrant experience”.
Photos courtesy of Sydney Theatre Company