October 01, 1993

Dirty Diggers

Sex Diary of an Infidel
by Michael Gurr
State Theatre Company
Lion Theatre

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

It has gradually become apparent over the last few years just how many Australians are involved in the South East Asian sex trade. Not only those who fill the planes destined for Bangkok and Manila but those who own and operate the businesses that cater for their various tastes. Michael Gurr’s Sex Diary of an Infidel examines the relationship between the voyeur and the watched, the exploiter and victim.

Things aren’t what they seem, it seems. Jean, an investigative journalist based in Melbourne has won awards for a piece on Tony, a street kid with whom she has now lost contact. Except that he turns up again to take up residence in her flat after the intrepid reporter has left for Manila with her photographer boyfriend Martin. She’s in the Philippines to write about the sex industry, interviewing Max, a sardonic brothel-keeper with a disturbingly attractive directness. He also has a penchant for making Jane Austen-like asides into his cassette recorder diary. Max, it turns out, is an old chum. Martin, newcomer- so to speak- to Manila, gets to know Toni, a young transexual working in Max’s house. Toni wants to get to Hong Kong for the Operation, in the meantime he throws molotovs at the Americans in solidarity with his brother, a Filipino revolutionary.

Gurr sets up an intriguing plot where villains are disarmingly cogent and the sexually marginal have all the dignity and most of the humanity, where cameras photograph everything and see nothing and reporters are publicly high principled and privately corrupt. But laying this set of cultural and ethical paradoxes involves twisting the narrative to the point where plausibilty snaps. Jean turns out to be so many different people that she loses our interest even as a multiple personality.

In State’s production – third in the Lion season- director Kim Hanna, with a sparse, curtained set from Shaun Gurton, gives plenty of pace to Gurr’s teledrama-style text. The rapid scene changes are punctuated by Seamas Rhind’s synths and Keith Tucker’s highly localised lighting but the momentum leads only to disappointment as the narrative fails to sustain itself.

Belinda Davey, faced with the difficult task of making Jean convincing, decides to be intense and glassy-eyed. Luciano Martucci is only slightly less bewildered as Martin. Claire Jones, as Jean’s sister Laura fares better as does Brant Eustice, who encompasses both the vulnerability and amorality of Tony. As his Manila doppelganger, Hiro Fukushima presents a tender portrait of Toni, Max’s angel and image of a people violated by foreign invasion.

As Max, Edwin Hodgeman gives one of his most distinctive performances for some time. He captures the reptilian wit and existential bravado of which, one suspects, the playwright himself has grown so fond that it has tilted the play. Sex Diary of an Infidel opens with strong challenges to the audience’s sexual decorum but with each successive turn of the plot the play loses focus and purpose. Far from delving its subject it resorts to sentiment and cynicism, an exercise in the sort of cultural tourism it purports to despise.

The Adelaide Review, October, 1993, p.45.

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