Ep 32 – Hir, Good Muslim Boy

Happy Easter! This was recorded back on the Labour Day long weekend but is still as fresh as ever. This month the gang talk cycling in Melbourne, Queer Eye, Philip finds out what MAFS means and all our MQFF and Comedy Festival tips. But more importantly our shows for this month are Taylor Macs Hir at Red Stitch and Good Muslim Boy at the Malthouse. We also propose 3 months of activism to get new listeners for the show by the end of our 3rd season (can you believe we have been going for 3 years?!). 1. Review and rate our podcast on iTunes it helps people find us 2. If you know someone who would like our show please tell them or help them to get a podcasting app and add us. You can also post about us on your social media! 3. Please vote for us in the Australian Podcasting Awards! (last day to vote is tomorrow March 31st). Thanks for listening! Sign up to our mailing list if you would like to get our hot tips for the month ahead (link on our FB).

Connect with us on twitter, facebook, instagram and our website. 

Donate to our server costs.

Credits


Ep 32 – Hir, Good Muslim Boy Transcript

(soft electronic intro music plays – fades)

Carla: Welcome to the 32nd episode of Across the Aisle. Greetings! Bienvenue mon ami, Philippe Thiel!

Philip: Bonjour, ça va?

Carla: Ahhh, oui oui, ça va. (laughs)

Philip: Bien.

Carla: Hello from the last vestiges of summer in Melbourne. It’s been ‘hot hot hot’ since November, and considering it’s still hot this Labor Day long weekend when we’re recording, it seems we will have one of our Indian summers. Some final weeks to get a swim in, get … out and about and see some art. And indeed Phil and I have been enjoying riding our bikes around Melbourne getting to venues, with the 10 km round trip from the city to Red Stitch for Taylor Mac’s ‘Hir’, and a little further in, but not so close for me, ‘Good Muslim Boy’ at The Malthouse. Phil, you and Daniel Andrews’ gridlock has encouraged me to make my bike my only source of transport. You’re a keen rider: any favourite trails around Melbourne?

Philip: Do you know that I am taking to the road? I’m claiming my space, overtaking on the inside, and speaking of Dan Andrews, I get lots of opportunities with the recent traffic jams to pass people. Delightful!

Carla: Power to the road riders. I’ve always ridden on the road. I find it way much safer.

Philip: Yeah and it just needs to be the place where bikes are.

Carla: Agreed! Agreed.

Philip: Having said that, the William Barak bridge over to the MCG from the city is delightful. Delightful.

Carla: I’ll have to try it. So before we move on to our shows for this month we need to talk, dear listeners. Here at the show we’ll be doing three months of activism to get our dear little poddy into the ears of as many people as possible. So we’re coming up on our third… the end of our third year. So we’ve got three months until that happens. So we’d love to start a new season with as many new listeners as possible. So if you could: one, review and rate our podcast on iTunes, that would be awesome. It helps other people find our show and we read every comment you write. So thanks a lot. If you know someone who would like the show – so press pause right now and we’ll wait for you – and message them now, or post about us on your social media. We’ll wait. If you know someone who is new to the whole podcasting thing, or you love being domineering, grab their phone, download a podcasting app to it and put our show into their feed. Number three, we have nominated for the Australian Podcast Awards this year. We selected our ‘Joan This is Eden’ show as our best of last year, so, log on to our Facebook page @acrossaisle and you’ll see a link there to be able to vote for us.

Philip: Exciting!

Carla: Yeah. So, okay, over the Yarra we will go. Get out your notepads, your teaching moment has arrived with Hir.

Philip: (chuckles) Red Stitch. Here we come. What a funny little place Red Stitch is!

Carla: I love it!

Philip: We got there early. We perched on some of their crooked seats, along with others who’d come in from the burbs. You get a real sense of subscriber loyalty at Red Stitch. There’s a real community and a really supportive one around the space. And with this show in particular they were waving their activist flag very proudly. I’m looking at the programme for Hir by Taylor Mac at Red Stitch and it’s full of resources and links about gender, about the transgender community. There’s clearly a sense that they want to start a conversation. Taylor Mac, of course, was the headline act at Melbourne Festival at the end of last year, and had a remarkable impact on the city both in terms of the people who got to see the show, and also the conversation around what it means to program that ambitiously. Taylor Mac is very interested in the history of activism around gender and sexuality, and this was a fascinating opportunity to see some work by Taylor Mac that is written by Judy (“Judy is Taylor Mac’s chosen pronoun) but not performed by Taylor Mac, and I was super excited about that. And, sort of, had high expectations in terms of the provocation level, and I was satisfied by how provoked I was, and how provoked the people around me were by this performance. It is full tilt. Full pitch. The volume is turned up up up, so much so that people sort of left for interval almost as if they’d been shaken by the shoulders, which is one of those really exciting elements of the theatrical experience. But let me read a little bit about this show. It’s about Max, a transgender teen living with mum, Paige, and father, Arnold. When brother Isaac returns home from the Marines he finds war has broken out at home. Finally liberated from an oppressive marriage, Paige is set to dismantle the patriarchy and follow Max into a brave new post-gender world. But in this savagely funny work, annihilating the past doesn’t always free you from it. And that’s the dark twist isn’t it? Because this is futurism but in a post-apocalyptic sort of way. This was Portlandia on steroids, right? This took the possibilities of a radically, politically active future and took them to the next level. The director Daniel Clarke has written in his notes that he sort of sees the whole community as one in transition; that even this house, that is the sort of messy, chaotic setting for the play, is having some kind of crisis. There’s some kind of change from one state to another. Many of the most effective parts of the play are actually some of its most problematic and provocative, because by the end of the performance this mother, Paige, who seems so right-on in some of her politics – for example, that she says she wants to make the whole world safe space – she’s got these slogans, and seems to be really positively out to support her children – she takes on some really tyrannical aspects in relation to members of the family. And in particular her treatment of her husband is intriguingly over-the-top, right? So she… force feeds him pills…

Carla: Oestrogen.

Philip: …she… you know, dresses him in a way that means that he’ll never be able to mobilize. The implication perhaps, or the challenge, is do we actually need to shut the whole system down, right? As embodied by this husband figure Arnold…

Carla: …who is catatonic from a stroke, he can’t really…

Philip: …yeah but there’s some sense too that…

Carla: …engage with the world.

Philip: …he’s being maintained in this helpless state by his wife; that there’s some sense that, you know, if he was to ever recover…

Carla: That’s so interesting!

Philip: …it would be problematic for the project.

Carla: No I found it… I read it in a totally different way that even in this kind of… even though in a microcosm they’re living in this post-gender reality, the spectre of patriarchy is still hanging around…

Philip: Okay yeah.

Carla: …lumbering them with caring duties and it just won’t fucking die.

Philip: Hence the smoothies.

Carla: That’s what I saw him as. (laughs)

Philip: Yeah the smoothies with the pills mixed in. (laughs) So say more about that, I want… I want to hear your take.

Carla: So, first of all… I kind of… Where do you even start? First of all, I thought this was actually a very good play, like, we’ve seen a lot of content that is meant in a sort of genuine way but really falls short of the mark to be a teaching moment. But I thought that this play was actually a very excellent teaching moment. It’s almost like, I don’t know if you go to the cinema with little kids, but when you go and see a film for little kids, but you always appreciate when they’ve actually put in enough content for you, like an adult, to keep you interested? That’s what I thought was the excellent balance that was struck with this play. So, there was… it was a runaway freight train of teaching moment – literal, like spelling out LGBTIQA, telling the audience what that means – but then also there was enough content in me, as a, you know, relatively radical feminist queer woman, to still be… remain interested and have a good time, so I really liked that better. Yeah I thought… in terms of the father – the catatonic father – yeah it’s just as I said, like, I think that I thought it was a very telling metaphor that, you know, it was his stroke – it’s alluded to that he was incredibly abusive – the metaphor of the family as a metaphor for patriarchy and women under the patriarchy that even though this person, like, the stroke had enabled them to progress and live the lives that they wanted to, and freedom – the fact that he was catatonic and still required to be bathed, and have an adult diaper, and be medicated, and fed like a child – I thought was a very deft metaphor for the… like, what would the death of the patriarchy may look like. Like, you know, the argument about the Boomers, it’s like, you know, well eventually they’ll all retire and give these plumb positions up, but they’re like 75 and still working…

Philip: Totally.

Carla: You know? David Stratton’s 78, he’s the director of Sydney Film Festival. Like, there’s no indication that these people are going to be giving up their power anytime soon. And I really do love this image that if they do, there’s gonna be, like, a living corpse to deal with, or so much legacy to deal with that will always, maybe, for a generation or two, still be lumbered with the work of getting rid of them.

Philip: Yes. And Taylor Mac is offering something, especially through your reading of the show, that is very holistic. You know, it’s, it’s sort of a microcosm theatre at its most powerful to give something that’s essentially sitcom-like in its format…

Carla: It’s like a very twisted episode of Roseanne… (laughs)

Philip: The entrances and the exits. I mean I especially loved how Paige, this mother, could be heard minutes before any appearance, you know? She was arguing from the driveway. Fantastic. And I don’t know, there was a visceral quality to that detail and many other details, like whizzing machinery, actual, you know, gross messiness of the stage. It was hard to look at and, and literally difficult to listen to because they were being so noisy and so confronting that it was almost as if there was a literal protest element, like you were in a march at certain points of the play. And so many of the impacts of the production settled with me after I had left, because while I was in that little box of Red Stitch Theatre, I was just experiencing it as a sort of sensory overload.

Carla: I think that you probably agree with me here in understanding that, well, not understanding but, I thought it was a very good also micro/macrocosm of, you know, when people come out. You know, I’m sure you’ve experienced it, maybe yourself, or people that you know that, like, you know, people leap out of the closet – you know I mean – trailing rainbow flags and screaming about their newfound understanding of the world. And I think that this has intersected also with her on her unleashing of feminism. So there’s that real loud baby kind of scream about the understanding of their new reality. But yeah then it’s still also tempered with having to deal with the real world.

Philip: That’s such a helpful insight for me, because coming out offers something not only to the person coming out but to the community around that person.

Carla: Yeah interesting.

Philip: And it helps me understand lines from Paige, like, “Max saved me.” I mean, she’s talking about her child almost as a rescuer, as… as Max has this new identity that is suddenly so liberating, Mum gets involved and rides that wave to her own rescue. You know, like, she… she surfs out of her marriage through the next generation, and can then say things like, “We’re engaged in the radical re-imagining of possibility.” And far out. How great. Like, if you’re moving into your 50’s and you’ve got new language, new energy, and a sense of radical freedom, and all it takes is for your child to identify properly in terms of gender, that’s actually really thrilling. And it comes across in an exaggerated way through this character.

Carla: I like to hear your opinion on, you know, I saw the mother as, you know, a yin yang kind of expression of newfound politics. And I also thought that it was very delicate. This… the expression of everything this play was on a razor’s edge, like, it was so finely tuned. And I… I don’t know whether you felt like I did, also that I, just… I mean obviously she has her oppression as a woman and it’s through her child’s transgender journey that she’s able – and obviously her husband becoming catatonic – that she’s able to find the words to express this kind of primal rage that she has inside of her. But I also think, like, the kind of ugliness of how it is coming out of her is a real representation of a co-opting situation as well, a co-opting of other people’s… do you think that that was a criticism of white people or cis-normative heterosexual people co-opting other people’s causes for themselves and being the loudest with the power?

Philip: Potentially yeah. Because there are moments where I think we are asked to notice how blind she is to what’s actually going on in the next generation. And she has these two children as well. I mean, this soldier who comes home with his own trauma and his own need to process whatever has happened is just sort of not a good fit for her activism now. And so she needs to just,sort of, steamroll through. (laughs) And so I think that it is satire.

Carla: Yeah.

Philip: Even as Taylor Mac draws attention to what’s possible communally through proper gender identification and comings-out, it is a show that shows us some of the risks of perhaps moving too quickly, or overstepping or claiming too much for yourself.

Carla: And that’s where I think the real meta level of the teaching moment is for this show. So I think you get a very good demonstration of how much as an ally you can be a help, but also how that can quickly turn into being a hindrance. And she really made it about her rather than her, her children.

Philip: And thinking of the four characters in the play, Paige the mother is the one most likely to be like audience members for this play as it’s performed around the world. You know. So target, audience-wise, I reckon you’re going to have lots of Paige-like figures going out for their night of subscriber theatre and going, ‘Hang on a second, this is how I sound.’

Carla: Yeah. Or, you know, it’s just like, hey we’ve given you all of this knowledge but also look at how it can look like in action. So think about that as well.

Philip: Proceed with caution.

Carla: And that’s what I mean, like, that’s where I believe that this is an extraordinarily well written play that played out its intentions. Technically it was brilliant. And, you know, I enjoyed it, but I had – and this is something that maybe we can talk about in intermission – but I had children sitting behind me watching the show, like, a 7 year old and a 6 year old. And it’s like, four times in the last couple of months I’ve been to shows like, … ‘Priscilla’ there was babies there, there was fucking babies. So I’m loving that as well. And just hearing these kids talk about how the Daddy looks like a Mummy, and, you know, how they didn’t really clock that the son had used to be a woman and but…

Philip: So you’re all for it, like, bring the kids.

Carla: Yeah. I’m all for it. Yeah. Expose them to this straight away. So, that kind of had that deeper meta-level of this show and what it can do.

Philip: Yeah. Generations.

Carla: Did you enjoy it?

Philip: Not at all.

Carla: No I didn’t enjoy it.

Philip: Not at all. That’s OK.

Carla: It felt like eating a massive bowl of granola. You know what I mean? Dry. (laughs)

Philip: I was… I was lightly traumatized, which is something that I like to happen occasionally.

Carla: I agree.

Philip: And this was it.

Carla: Yeah it made me feel extremely uncomfortable, and I can only imagine if it made me feel uncomfortable, what it did for the rest of the other people in the room. So I’m like, woo hooo!

Philip: Taylor Mac. Thank you.

Carla: Yeah. Thanks.

Philip: Wonderful.

Carla: Yeah. (audience chatter fades up) Quick give me one of those hormone shakes.

Philip: Ohhh good. Whizz me up some pills.

Carla: Whizz me up some Skittles… Hormone… I dunno, smoothies.

Philip: What color was that? That was a grotesque drink. Yes. I think there was some ketchup in there. What have you been up to Carla?

Carla: Oh my God.

Philip: Tell me more.

Carla: Nothing.

Philip: Nothing?

Carla: School prison, yeah.

Philip: Bit of telly? What’s on the telly?

Carla: Lots of telly!

Philip: I caught Queer Eye … binged.

Carla: Queer Eye? Okay well let’s talk about MAFS as well. So I went to Sydney, I went to Sydney for five days to see friends and family and I don’t have a television, I haven’t had a television… for years.

Philip: Me too, me too.

Carla: And, but staying with other people you get exposed to this whole other world of everything. So just, so every single household I stayed in was like, all right, record screech, it’s time for MAFS, so…

Philip: Is it a daily show?

Carla: Monday to Thursday and then Sunday I think, I can’t remember.

Philip: So much commitment.

Carla: But MAFS if you are living under a rock, stands for Married At First Sight.

Philip: I’ve known that for 30 minutes now. I’m pretending that I’m okay with it. (laughs)

Carla: #MAFS. But let’s talk about Queer Eye first because I feel like I’m all juiced from the, the Red Stitch shows so we can get more into that because I want to say a lot about Queer Eye.

Philip: Yes. Yes. Well it’s a show with a…

Carla: …teaching moment.

Philip: Well there’s a political goal.

Carla: But what do you think that… oh my god! What do you think that is? I think… I disagree with you entirely.

Philip: Great! So. But I think that it is so self-conscious…

Carla: What??!!

Philip: …about what it is trying to achieve in terms of shifting the discourse…

Carla: (whispers) Oh my god.

Philip: …out of bubble, in to, you know, let’s just hug it out.

Carla: It’s entirely blind to what it is.

Philip: It’s a massive ritual hugging it out, deliberately set in the south, right? Very explicitly, deliberately about race and other intersections with… sexuality. So you’ve got these queer people who are, you know, arriving to assist but there is a modelling of how there might be some kind of exchange between them and the people they encounter. And it might be loving rather than hateful.

Carla: Have you watched the whole thing?

Philip: Yeah.

Carla: I’ve watched the whole thing too.

Philip: Well yes. So let’s just think about that last episode which is at a fire station. Like an actual fire station.

Carla: But don’t you think it falls into magical Negro, magical gay man territory?

Philip: Ahhhh… ye…….

Carla: I think it is so un-self-aware…

Philip: Uh huh.

Carla: …to the point that it is just reinforcing stereotypes and tropes that it actually damages…

Philip: Yeah.

Carla: …the queer gay… purpose.

Philip: Right. So it’s counterproductive.

Carla: A thousand percent.

Philip: OK.

Carla: So you’re seeing it as a gay man, I’m seeing it as a woman, because I see it as feminized people, right, doing all the emotional labor for middle-class white men…

Philip: And the actual labor.

Carla: …and the literal labor as well. To fix their lives.

Philip: Uhh huh.

Carla: Okay. So there is a black queer man in there, so the thing is is that it’s called Queer Eye now because it’s not any longer Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. They actually go and help a black gay man come out of the closet, which was like, Oh my God, tears. But the way… the way that these gay men are portrayed is just… So… I mean they’re obviously I think like amped up and genuinely nice people.

Philip: Yeah.

Carla: But I think the space that this sits in is so damaging to feminine people like, you know, like, they just go and see this guy who’s just like, Oh all I do is sit on the porch and smoke cigarettes and watch TV, it’s just like…

Philip: But then there’s the other guy who is working two jobs and appears to literally get three and a half hours sleep every night…

Carla: Oh my god, I know that whole family thing. That one was an okay one.

Philip: And the insight for me was that, like, … screwed up America is more screwed up than I’m used to actually seeing. Like, the fact that these families and their types of needs were foregrounded. And so for example, let’s just think about that Jonathan, that grooming queer eye, you know… obviously my idol in all things…

Carla: The magical gay Pixie.

Philip: …bring me all of the product, you know. So he’s working with this dude who gets three and a half hours of sleep and going, ‘Okay, so you gonna have less time at the mirror. Let’s… let’s do sped-up version here.’ It’s simplistic but it’s real.

Carla: I do think that they… like, the spaces that they inhabit, professionally, I think is excellent and I think that the advice that they gave these people are, is really great and tailored to the people’s lifestyles. Like, the Antony, the cooking guy just helped that guy make chili.

Philip: Yeah.

Carla: Right? Totally fucking awesome. I think that they’re not classist in any way which is excellent. But I think, like, the meta-commentary on this, you know, like, there’s so many moments in there that really made my skin crawl. Like, that guy who’s a Christian, and he’s like, you know, I grew up… he has to do this like, thing, to let everybody know that like, a speech, a thing to let everybody know that even though he was raised to hate fags, you know, these guys have, you know, backed up his innate feeling that, you know… it’s just, it’s messed up. And then also the police one where they do the prank…

Philip: Oh my god.

Carla: …to pull over the queer guys in the car and it’s the black guy who’s driving, and he fuckin’ freaks out. Because he’s getting pulled over for no reason. But there’s so many…

Philip: Sure. I think that we absolute, like, I think we agree more than we think. Like I’m listening to how you find that moment hyper-problematic. I find it hyper-problematic too, but that’s what is supporting my claim that this is a self-consciously political show, like they’ve set that up so that Karamo, the…

Carla: So you think reinforcing stereotypes teaches people about other people’s experiences?

Philip: I think that the audience for this show is going to be diverse and include Trump voters, and that makes it interesting that they’re having those scenes of conversation, listening, dialogue, and ultimate hugging out. It’s tele, you know, it’s… it’s simplified radically, but I think there are possibilities in it for political impact at a micro level, and in a way that is not possible using social media now because we don’t ever find each other. Right? So this is, this is going to be a mass product, like a product that will have a mass audience…

Carla: I agree with you.

Philip: …and so maybe the fag hating Christians are going to have to have a moment of realization that there is flexibility for them, for example, within their cultural beliefs. Like, maybe if they were more exposed to product then they would suddenly be able to release their homophobia. (laughs)

Carla: (laughs) Oh my God. Get some wax… that’s the… see the thing is, is that this is where I actually… my personal aesthetic around, not aesthetic but my personal beliefs in politics and activism, really differs from a lot of people because I just, I think at a more macro level, like, I do agree with you, I think that this is changing hearts and minds, but I think at a macro level we need to develop the conversation around gay people just being normal people who participate in society, and having that represented in the myriad ways that television is presented on TV and that’s the way forward. I feel like this is a massive regressive step in terms of the way that we are portrayed on television.

Philip: I’m regressive though. (laughs)

Carla: (laughs) Don’t get me wrong! I watch the whole fucking thing.

Philip: I’m a force for regression. (laughter)

Carla: So talking about regressive. Let’s talk about MAFS.

Philip: Oh sorry we’re out of time! Oh no!!

Carla: And this is where I completely eat my heart for everything that I’ve said, or maybe it’s just okay because it’s straight people.

Philip: Amazing. Amazing.

Carla: Because you know I’m like straight racist or whatever, but… Married At First Sight! I don’t have a TV so I had to watch it on the Channel Nine app because…

Philip: You went there!

Carla: I got… I know. I got hooked after two episodes. I even got my partner hooked on him which he’s… just hates me for. It’s high drama reality television. Most of these people are completely deranged, as you can imagine, and as a psychology student I find it fascinating to watch, you know? But what is real? What is not real? What is producer-led?

Philip: Wow.

Carla: It is the first reality show I’ve watched in… I mean obviously Queer Eye is quote/unquote ‘reality’ I guess.

Philip: But basically that’s who I believe straight people to be. So I have a reverse Queer Eye experience here.

Carla: Yeah I… yeah. And maybe that’s where, you know, I have a blind spot. But it was you know it was entertaining as all hell, so if you…

Philip: Strong recommend!

Carla: Yeah exactly. And you know, I think that we actually sit in the exact same … space about these two shows.

Philip: Oh yeah.

Carla: And they’re both problematic in probably the exact same ways but you know, mirror in parallel, so…

Philip: But, yep. Not gonna get a telly anytime soon.

Carla: Ahhh no. (laughs) And the Channel Nine app is shit so… (laughter) …I wouldn’t recommend watching it on your computer either way, so… (intermission chimes in background)

Philip: Oooo!!

Carla: We’ve gotta go.

Philip: Now it’s really out of time. (audience chatter fades out)

Carla: Okay so now we’re going over to The Malthouse for Good Muslim Boy. This is based on a biography that came out a couple of years ago from Osamah Sami, and the intro says: “Osamah Sami’s father inspired him to believe anything that’s possible, and he’s been testing the limits his entire life. He speaks six languages, he has a black belt in taekwondo, and a fake medical degree. He started Saddam Hussein in musical comedy then got mistaken for a terrorist at the airport in the USA. His father is his hero. But when his father dies in a visit to Iran, Osamah has to bring his body back to Australia.” This is drawn from the award-winning novel of the same name and his recent smash hit film, Ali’s Wedding. Did you see that film?

Philip: I haven’t seen it yet.

Carla: I haven’t seen it either. So it recounts Osamah’s hilarious and heartbreaking personal history and his journey, I guess, to bring back his father’s body from Iran, the essentially almost Kafkaesque-hell of…

Philip: Totally.

Carla: …Iranian, or just, I would say, bureaucracy in general in terms of processing a dead body and bringing it back. It also stars Osamah Sami and… I have this really weird thing about the poster, I want to talk about first of all. So on the poster it’s Osamah Sami in a Jenny Kee jumper. So I’m gathering this is supposed to indicate to us that, you know, it’s one of those hideous Aussie dinky-di kind of things. That jumper would be about 900 dollars.

Philip: Intriguing.

Carla: So I just don’t understand what that picture is supposed to be depicting to us about Australian middle-class affluence? Or not?

Philip: And the adjective ‘good’, you know, in the title, the idea that if you’re a good Muslim boy this is what you look like.

Carla: Yeah. That’s really strange. I mean it’s obviously supposed to be a juxtapose of Aussie iconoclasts, or… iconoclasm, whatever I say it…

Philip: But is the idea that it’s meant to not suit him?

Carla: I think it’s just supposed to be a dinky-di Aussie-cross-Muslim.

Philip: Yeah. Okay.

Carla: Anyway so let’s go to the play. I actually want to talk about the set. I really love the set and it’s like… it was like a tram stop set. I really love plays that centre around things like this. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this. I don’t really have high hopes for a lot of new Australian works which is sad. But I thought this was really well put together. I haven’t read the book much, but it’s adapted to the stage brilliantly. The narrative flows; there’s a lot of introspection from him, obviously; but I didn’t really sort of understand what makes a good Muslim boy. Like, what is this story supposed to be talking about?

Philip: It didn’t go very broad…

Carla: Yeah… it was just a straight story about a dude bringing back his dad’s body.

Philip: And like you said, when you adjusted your comment about the bureaucracy to make it just about bureaucracy generally, I think this had the air of a kind of moral fable with a universal message. So there were particular countries being explored, Iran and Australia, particular cultures, Islam, and yet so much of what was going on was about the love of a child for his parent, and also – and this is what gave the play so much of its dark comedy – the horrors of bureaucracy, especially when there’s a corpse involved.

Carla: Right.

Philip: And so that is going to happen wherever you are around the world. There’s going to be loyalty, affection, ritual practice, and clashes of cultures if you go very far from home. But yeah, I don’t think it delivers what it says on the box about what it means to be Muslim, even necessarily what it means to be a Muslim in Australia, which would have interested me. I mean, I hope that other works, you know, continue to explore those questions of identity and religion. But yeah, I was intrigued by the Kafkaesque death stuff. I thought the set was really well adapted to build a sense of chaos, and enclosure, and panic around all of that, as the time is ticking and he needs to get his dad out of there, the set starts to sort of close up more and, you know, things that you thought opened don’t anymore, and people keep popping up and telling you that you can’t do this, and you can’t do that. I thought that sequence was really cleverly done and built to a real sense of claustrophobia appropriately. And, you know, there were lots of laugh lines in it as well. And those were mostly about the Aussie stuff, you know? So, the way that people who are not from a white Anglo culture need to sort of assert that they know about footy, for example, or that they like a meat pie or whatever to sort of get by, and that I guess matches this image of the kangaroo jumper on the front of the program. And the audience I think warmed to the character basically instantly through that strategy of, like, Oh you’ve got, you’ve got the Aussie humour down. And so we’ll listen to your story now which is different to what it might have been if the character was actually alien and alienating and aggressive, right? So there was a, a little bit of that, that way that successful good Muslim, or good other migrants, are trained to present themselves, and maybe that was part of what the play was exploring.

Carla: Yeah that’s a very interesting read. Yeah. Because to me it more felt like, because, also he’s Iraqi, who grew up Iraqi Muslim, who grew up in Iran. So I think it did a good job of kind of illustrating the space that a lot of immigrants sit in here, which is they’re extremely cross-cultural, like, they may have two parents from two different countries and have grown up here, or, you know, two different, you know, be born somewhere else, live somewhere else, and then had to become a refugee and live here. So I think perhaps that is a much more contemporary understanding of what an Australian is. And I really, if that’s the true intention of the play, then I really commend that because that’s telling a story that is… I’ve never seen before on the Australian stage. But I think it was sort of more, up up light played for laughs. I definitely shed a tear at the end. I don’t think it really went too deep in the way that it possibly could have, but I haven’t read the book so I can’t really comment on how deep the material is. But it’s not really… in terms of representation, I appreciate, I definitely appreciate it. And I think it was… I think was excellent. Like it was very well put together, but it really lacked that… really lacked that cross-cultural punch that I was kind of expecting from it.

Philip: Yeah I feel the same way. Yeah. Yeah. And, and the thing that I’ll carry from this conversation is your insight about how the migrant story is always more complex than you think, and that there are often multiple points of transition before this latest arrival in Australia. I thought that was told very well, like, arriving in this context where there is a different multiculturalism. You know, the Iranian space where there were different languages, different ethnicities, different religions, and that all needed to be navigated even though it was totally unfamiliar to this guy. That really built a sense of empathy from the multicultural Melburnian audience in all of its specificity and took us back to that universal space of, you know, when all is said and done, this society needs to support the proper burial of dads. You know, if we can’t get that right, (laughs) if we can’t bury dads, something’s wrong. Something’s deeply wrong.

Carla: How did you feel about… I really didn’t like having white people in this play. How did you feel about that?

Philip: I don’t have particularly strong feelings about it. Do you want to say more about that?

Carla: Well I just… I don’t know whether as a representation of Australia, so they’ve got a mixed cast? But they had a white woman called Nabout… or, you know, presenting as white, sort of, playing a multitude of different Middle Eastern characters.

Philip: Yeah. And perhaps the reason I’m not… I’m not, not necessarily affected by the casting of the show is because there was multiple roles played by everyone except for Osamah…

Carla: …didn’t sort of stand out.

Philip: Well it, well it, actually just was… was bold, suggesting that, you know, gender ethnicity/identity class, is something that you can temporarily play – right? – in that theatrical mode. So that was actually built in to the way that the script had been adapted, and so what was less significant because they were not in one particular role throughout the, throughout the text.

Carla: Yeah. Perhaps I’m just being too much of a stalwart, like, I get really excited I see, you know, a brown person on the cover of a magazine about, you know, the play that they’ve written a book about and starring in and it’s like, I want it all brown show, but…

Philip: Well I’m going back to the Red Stitch show. They cast a transgender performer in the transgender character role which is, which is better.

Carla: But Red Stitch: so white. Oh my God.

Philip: (laughter) Conversely…

Carla: Yeah. We didn’t talk about it in the other part, but like, I really appreciate where they’ve gone with this programming. And I would say that also about the Malthouse.

Philip: Yeah.

Carla: And perhaps that’s just it? It’s just baby steps.

Philip: Yeah.

Carla: We’re slowly getting there.

Philip: Oh this season of Malthouse is wonderfully diverse…

Carla: Yeah.

Philip: …from a racial perspective. Absolutely.

Carla: Yeah.

Philip: Great.

Carla: Coming Soon!

Philip: Comedy Festival flags are fluttering.

Carla: Oh yes?

Philip: Clickity clank, clickity clank!

Carla: I just don’t have any time anymore. I just want to kill myself.

Philip: Have you ever made a decision about entertainment based on a flag?

Carla: On a flag? Yeah like as in…

Philip: As in, seen a flag on Swanston Street and said, ‘Yeah I might see that show’?

Carla: No I’m so anti-advertising as you can imagine.

Philip: I don’t like it.

Carla: No.

Philip: It’s inspiring but pointless. The thing I really hate is the NGV’s giant banners on that fabulous building. They really break up that brutalist, minimalist façade.

Carla: Which building?

Philip: You know how you go to the NGV and there’s always some giant ad, banner, down the side of the arched entrance at the water wall?

Carla: Yeah.

Philip: It’s like, just give me some bluestone.

Carla: Yeah. It doesn’t… advertising doesn’t endear me.

Philip: Nup.

Carla: But as everybody knows, like, I very rarely know anything about shows before I go and see them. I’ll be going because of a director, performer, or…

Philip: Sure. Actually the one place I do make spontaneous choices are the glowing things around the spire, Arts Centre building. I use those as, ‘Oh okay, there’s Calamity Jane musical. All right, cool.’

Carla: I also think that I also have this opinion that if you’ve got enough money to have an ad on a tram I don’t want to see your show.

Philip: Oh nice.

Carla: Yeah. It’s just not gonna be something that is, that I would, find appealing.

Philip: I certainly think… Opera Australia tram. I’m just like, ‘Oh that’s where the government funding goes’. (laughter). So no comedy for you?

Carla: I would love to go. I would love to go see Zoë Coombs Marr and Tessa Waters.

Philip: Okay I’m listening. Zoë, Tessa…

Carla: Yeah. But, it’s just a time thing for me, really. Yeah. What about you?

Philip: I’ll try and see a few shows at that festival. A thing that I wanted to talk about at Intermission which is probably coming to an end – but schedule it for next year – is the Lorne Sculpture Biennial. Beautifully done, new director. So actually not next year – every even-numbered year – at about this time, very different to the Sydney thing where you go from Bondi to Bronte and see big sculptures over the Melbourne Cup sort of… time of the year.

Carla: Yeah yeah.

Philip: This one was very integrated with the landscape, very fragile, very disappearing before your eyes. I was quite moved.

Carla: Have you been to that island in the Yarra? Herring Island?

Philip: No let’s go!

Carla: The sculpture park?

Philip: Let’s go!

Carla: Dude it’s fucking cool.

Philip: Yeah cool.

Carla: I will… I will plug something. I can’t, I don’t have time as everyone knows to go to Queer Film Festival, but it’s a film that I’ve talked about on the podcast before Desert Hearts.

Philip: OK.

Carla: There’s a new 4K quote/unquote, like, print of it. It’s like one of the OG lesbian films from 1986. It’s incredible.

Philip: Delightful.

Carla: If you want to get some queer history film… education…

Philip: Amazing.

Carla: …go and see Desert Hearts.

Philip: Thank you.

Carla: Yeah. All right. That is that for February, it’s a late show this month. Thanks for listening. Get onto your homework items please listeners! You can contact Phil and I at us@acrossaisle.com or please sign up to our Facebook and Twitter pages with @acrossaisle. Thank you to Mark Barrage and Ron Killeen from Shack West for our smooth gold sound. Thank you as always to the performers who are sweating it out over summer here in Melbourne. Without you we would never experience air conditioning.

Philip: True.

Carla: Thank you again and see you soon!

Philip: Bye!

(soft electronic theme music fades out)