June 01, 2017

Poignant search for identity and place

Sista Girl
by Elena Carapetis and Alexis West
State Theatre Company and Yirra Yaakin
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
May 30. Tickets: $20- $39. Bookings 131 246 or online.
Duration 75 minutes.
Until June 3.
Perth season : August 9-19. Subiaco Arts Centre.

Murray Bramwell

“Words like reconciliation and recognition are just rhetoric,” writes Yirra Yaakin artistic director, Kyle J. Morrison, “without the human understanding of each other in the process. How can we grow together…without the honest conversation of who we are, where we come from and how we all feel about our national narrative.”

Sista Girl, a brave and engaging new work developed in collaboration between Yirra Yaakin and State Theatre Company for their on-going State Ed schools program, is a dialogue between two twenty-something women – Aboriginal entrepreneur Nakisha Grey and Italian-Australian Georgie Morelli – who discover, when they are each summoned to the hospital because of the death of a father, that they have more in common than they ever imagined.

On first appearances that seems unlikely. Each prepares their morning ritual to face the urban day. Nakisha grooms herself with eucalyptus oil to the hip-hop sounds of A.B. Original’s January 26th while Georgie takes a fugitive moment to smell the coffee. Nakisha is caught in traffic in her black BMW, braced to finalise a deal which will make or break a mining venture. Georgie, in Adidas jacket and sneakers, is riding the bus to visit her nonna, hospitalised with advanced dementia.

It is Australia Day and in their parallel monologues Nakisha and Georgie describe their versions of contemporary urban life. One has had a privileged, but isolating, education and has been groomed, by her domineering father, to succeed in business. The other, abandoned by her father and raised by her ailing mother, has only the remnants of connection with her Italian heritage.

Writers, Greek-Australian Elena Carapetis and Birri Gubba woman Alexis West have crammed their text with verbal exuberance and thematic ambition which at times threatens to overtake the modest parameters of Morrison’s production. But Sista Girl is a timely venture into the often contested terrain of racial and immigrant attitudes in Australia.

Designer Miranda Hampton has used a compact revolving carousel set with a series of steps, incorporating coloured cushions to indicate interior scenes. It is a sort of spiral – of rising and descending fortune perhaps, warmly lit by Rick Worringham and serenaded, sometimes slightly obtrusively, by Andrew Howard’s guitar plucking score.

The performances are crucial to the credibility of the text and its often topical pop culture references. Sharni McDermott is to be commended for taking on the role of Nakisha less than a week before opening night after Natasha Wanganeen was forced to step down due to family bereavement. Understandably, McDermott has not yet found her stride, but her portrait of cultural dislocation and severed identity is poignant. Nadia Rossi is outstanding as Georgie. It is a deftly understated performance, rich in wry comedy and yearning for lost connections.

“Poignant search for identity and place”, The Australian, June 1, 2017, p,14.

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