Our August picks for schools - UNDERLAND & OEDIPUS DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANY MORE
John Kachoyan - AustralianPlays.org Literary Manager
The two plays I have selected this month come to us through our colleagues at Playlab in Brisbane. They are both by playwrights whose work is quirky and more than a little unsettling. Alexandra Collier’s play Underland was developed originally under the auspices of the Sydney Theatre Company and received an off-broadway season in NYC (where, although Australian, the playwright lives). Oedipus Doesn’t Live Anymore is by Brisvegas’ busiest theatre worker, Daniel Evans.
Collier’s Underland is set in the outback where two girls, bored with school-life decide to tunnel their way to China. Only their geography is off. The script is full of larger-than-life characters and strange poetic images. A great choice for a feisty group that would enjoy something a little off the beaten track.
As an Australian who both, lives in and trained in the US, Collier has an interesting take on the ‘Australianness’ of this work:
Ally Collier: "This play is an Australian play written from a distance. It’s authentic but it’s also an imagined place—somewhere in between the two countries."
The nexus between Australia and the US is in some ways extremely close, particularly when it comes to landscape and this play has an intriguing blend of US and Australian aesthetics. On its premiere in New York city it received some warm reviews:
"Ms. Collier.... has created six vivid, droll characters. In terraNOVA Collective’s polished production of Underland at 59E59 Theaters, Mia Rovegno has directed six assertive, beautifully delineated performances" - New York Times
"Cleverly mixing surreal dangers with the painfully everyday world" - Charged FM
"Underland is the best kind of scary... It's the kind of scary that you don't notice at first, that creeps in around the edges, capable of capturing the audience in its jaws and swallowing them whole" - StageBuddy
"dystopian fever dream of a play" - Talkin' Broadway
Daniel Evans’ Oedipus Doesn’t Live Anymore is a re-working of the Oedipus myth which places its cataclysmic events in suburban Brisbane. Daniel has a great theatrical flair and a powerful instinct with revisiting classics.
From the Sydney Morning Herald: June 2, 2017 (Elissa Blake)
Oedipus Doesn't Live Here Anymore, a drama set in a modern-day Australian suburb in which four teenagers relate a story of abuse, murder and suicide. The play won the Queensland Premier's Literary Award in 2014. Wesley Enoch, then the artistic director of the Queensland Theatre Company, described it as "exciting, heartbreaking, thrilling and uncomfortable – everything great theatre should be".
Oedipus Doesn't Live Here Anymore plays with the formula of Greek tragedy by using the chorus, which traditionally comments on the dramatic action, to tell the story and portray all the characters. The play taps into the ageless phenomenon of the tragedy tourist, morbidly drawn to the scenes of crimes. "In this case it's the audience who are the tourists," Evans says. "They've turned up to get close to the event somehow, and the four teenagers are kids who grew up around Oedipus. They don't know the whole story – their parents won't talk about what happened – but they try to tell it the best way they know how."
Oedipus is the guy who grew up to unknowingly kill his dad, marry his mum and father her children. It’s kind of the ‘original tragedy’ and what the play does is transplant his story to the outer suburbs; a space that has always felt mythic to me. It asks, what if Oedipus lived next door? If his wife Jocasta shopped at the same Coles you did? And if his sons, Polynices and Etocles, were in your biology class at school? It’s a proposition that isn’t so hard to imagine, especially given the spate of murders, bashings, disappearances and backyard horror stories that grip and mortify us via the 24-hour news stream; unspeakable tragedies becoming disturbingly commonplace.
Tom Healey, Literary Manager