STCSA’s Decameron 2.0 opens with a series of monologues exploring the idea of sacrifice. Monique Grbec takes a look
In an ideal world where actions speak louder than words, what is your legacy? Beginning with the premise that various voices bring us closer to wisdom, the South Australian State Theatre Company and ActNow Theatre present Decameron 2.0, a series of 100 monologues created by more than 30 writers and actors.
Released online over 10 weeks, each week introduces 10 different stories with 10 different characters, grouped around a different theme. The structure is inspired by a 14th century collection of Italian stories by Giovanni Boccaccio, but a Welcome to Country in Kuarna from Jack Buckskin firmly establishes Decameron 2.0 as a South Australian production.
What follows is a colonised world responding to Covid-19. If this first series of 10 stories is indicative of the other 90 stories, we need to ask if quantity is a substitute for quality.
The theme of Episode One is “Those who make sacrifices”. It opens with Emily Steel’s Grace, performed by Carmel Johnson, a portrait of a lockdown birthday. A well-heeled baby boomer sits at a table with a birthday candle in a tiny cupcake, a willow pattern teacup and saucer and a laptop. The woman monologues to an unseen, unresponsive grandchild. The soft voice of gentrified bitterness reinforces the paternalism of colonialist systems steeped in religious dogma:
I know you’re a good girl…you share your toys…try not to get dirty…you have pretty clothes, pretty hair,” she tell us.… “I was a good girl too, put other people first… thoughtful, selfless actions… thought of others needs and wants… I worked hard, married…I tried to make people, work, husband, children, happy. I didn’t wonder if I was happy.
This woman believed goodness would be rewarded and hoped for someone to put her needs and wants first. She watched people “cheat and scheme and live extraordinary lives”; and after she “stayed and looked after everyone” and nursed her husband, she “sold our house and bought my own place; painted, filled it with beauty”.
Grace tells her granddaughter that spending her daughter’s inheritance with French classes and trips to Europe made her daughter angry. As she finishes, the sacrifice is finally evident as she tells her granddaughter in a clear, direct voice void of bitterness and regret: “Nan said so…no birthdays, school pick-ups, Grandma days or nights… I don’t want your germs. I don’t need you, I’m not lonely. I’ll be just fine.”
In contrast, Matcho Cassidy’s Tita (Aunty) has lost her job and is supporting her family, her husband and his “cigarettes and soda fizz”. She’s angry and frustrated by young people and the lack of responsibility shown by others towards Covid-19 restrictions. “I always keep clean, I’m always clean,” she says. Tita follows the rules, and want to know “why can’t people have discipline?”
The poetic rhythm as she lists traditional Asian remedies creates a calmness that clears the air of anger and frustration. The tea, vinegar, lemon and ginger of her tonics evoke mindful action: “breathing in the spirit and breathes out the sickness”. Tita’s calmness is overturned by the onslaught of rumours about the virus. Her anxiety about the contradictions of health professional versus conspiracy theorist squashes her monologue: “Just stay home”.
Alex Vickery-Howe gives us Rowdy, performed by James Smith, who takes a travel mug to a seat at an AA meeting in hi-viz, flannelette shirt and shaved head. He’s not an alcoholic, he says: he “just needed to get out of the house”. He “doesn’t even like beer…it’s like a meal…a shitty curry… and if you get too much of a taste for it you look like a pregnant woman”. He salutes his travel mug, revealing that his poison is tea and goes on nonchalantly about favourites and a butterfly pea powder that “turns your piss blue”.
His missus is in the room down the hall at the “sex fiends” meeting. “Me and my misses should get married… got pregnant first… got pregnant first go… Can’t afford counseling”. Rowdy reminisces: he’s been Rowdy since he was eight. Now as a man with responsibilities he’s tormented that all the doors of all the “maybes will be left behind”. He expects he’ll be third in his family: bub, wife and then him. “He, she or they. Baby is my God”.
Rowdy raises his travel mug up to the group again and offers a jovial toast. Then he remembers where he is and apologises. “I’m good”, he says. Of course he’s good, I think. In a room of recovering addicts he’s sacrificing their time and needs for his own.
Manal Younus’ Almaz explores the trauma of domestic abuse amid war. Almaz is a mother blaming herself for abandoning her children after they left a war-torn country. Her tears and prayers cannot get her children to forgive her. Her sacrifice is clear – “I didn’t want to trap them in my hell and I didn’t want my hell to follow them, so I let them go”. But I yearned for images. I wanted to see the places in her mind.
Charlie is a riveting piece by Penn O’Brien, portrayed with strength, beauty and clarity by Rhys Stewart under the direction of Anthony Nicola. Charlie’s top surgery is postponed, a “blip in the procession of quarantine” when elective surgeries are meted out, with preference given to those with visible pain. Charlie portrays the drama of deep grief endured over many years; years suffering the antiquities of the colonial system that chooses to ignore inner strength and knowledge to imprison the body.
Teahrnah, written and directed by Alexis West, is a riveting piece of story telling that is subtly evoked by the paced reveal of Elaine Crombie’s elegant performance. Along with Penn O’Brien’s Charlie these are two stand-out monologues about two characters whose forced sacrifice is justified as being the best for others.
Teahrnah needs to get to the shops. It’s pissing with rain and catching the bus with three babies and a pram and then bringing home food enough for all the “hungry, thirsty, greedy fucks” is… well, we are asked to imagine. There’s a car in the yard. Her mum doesn’t have dialysis today so she leaves the kids at home and takes the car. She’s steadied herself against the usual looks of people at the supermarket and is driving to the last shop when her mum calls asking for ciggies.
Turning to head back to the supermarket, she hears the police car siren, sees “the light of doom”. “I feel the bruises on my body before it happens…’Can I help you sir?’… Slave I Remain.” Teahrnah goes through a mental checklist to answer the police questions. “Registration? No. License? No. Warrants?” She is sitting at the police station: “What’s going to happen to my babies?”
At the other end of the scale, Grace and Rowdy show us that the Aussie stereotypes of self-serving boomer and self-centered larrikin are still talking about how great they are, although they’re really just looking out for themselves. This series looks closely at the question of legacy and shared privilege. Who are you in this line-up?
Decameron 2.0 | Episode One: Those Who Make Sacrifices. Grace by Emily Steel, performed by Carmel Johnson, directed by Mitchell Butel. Tita (Auntie) by Match Cassidy, performed by Valerie Berry, directed by Edwin Kemp Attrill. Rowdy by Alex Vickery-Howe, performed by James Smith, directed by Yasmin Gurreeboo. Almaz by Manal Younus, performed by Manal Younus, directed by Mitchell Butel. Charlie by Penn O’Brien, performed by Rhys Stewart, directed by Anthony Nicola. Wren by Sally Hardy, performed by Miranda Daughtry, directed by Clara Solly-Slade. Greg by Kyro Weetra, performed by Jack Buckskin, directed by Alexis West. Emma by Sarah Peters, performed by Arran Beattie, directed by Anthony Nicola. June by Ben Brooker, performed by Carolyn Mignone, directed by Yasmin Gurreeboo. Teahrnah by Alexis West, performed by Elaine Crombie, directed by Alexis West. Online at State Theatre Company South Australia and ActNow Theatre, with episodes added weekly.