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Addiction’s vicious cycles

Jana Perkovic: Tony Reck, Dirty Pictures

L-R Willow Conway, Ange Arabatzis, Nick Stribakos, Lucia Brancatisano, 
Dirty Pictures L-R Willow Conway, Ange Arabatzis, Nick Stribakos, Lucia Brancatisano,
Dirty Pictures
photo Angel Leggas; 3 Fates Media

There is an odd sense of déjà vu about Dirty Pictures, a new Australian work made up of silent, and sometimes static, tableaux, performed against a large screen on which a violent mash-up of images is projected. It is a heavily visual performance, even though a monotone voice sometimes overlays the stage happenings, and the images are familiar, resonating.

A couple shoots up; makes out. A sex worker smokes on a street corner; is approached by a customer. A man slouches on the couch, in a drug-fuelled sleep. Drugs are exchanged for money; money for drugs. A man violently gropes a woman, while one of her hands is searching for her handbag on the floor. A woman stands on a street corner; a man appears out of nowhere and grabs her by the hair. A man turns a chair upside down, feeling all its nooks and joints for a secret stash of…drugs, money? Two women make out with a man; then with each other, peeling away from the man’s mouth, his crotch, onto the floor. A man runs in the night, his open eyes bewildered, searching. A woman cries on a bench. More money is exchanged: for a bigger packet of drugs, or, condescendingly, for two small pills and a nasty laugh.

This is the iconography of heroin in Melbourne: the iconography of St Kilda, of the 90s, of two dozen novels, films and plays. It is already-seen in the sense that these images are iconic: we feel we have seen them before even if we haven't, because we know that this is what addiction is. These four characters are stock characters in the commedia dell'arte of this genre: a couple hungry for each other and for a drug, a pimp, a sex worker. Both women are in high heels and short skirts, both are present exclusively as objects upon which sex and violence are inflicted; a lot of arse is bared, a lot of crotch.

Dirty Pictures Dirty Pictures
photo Angel Leggas; 3 Fates Media

Dirty Pictures is of another time, and not just because it tells a story that is no longer new. The juxtaposition of video projection and silent movement has an industrial harshness and an emphasis on flat image instead of the current more immersive performative experience; it speaks of the experimental theatre of the 1970s, 1980s—it is what Angus Cerini would have been making had he been born three decades earlier.

And yet, it merits recognition. In a city in which so much new work concerns itself either with pure form or fairly self-indulgent personal concerns of rather young and inexperienced makers, it is a breath of fresh air to see a work tackle deep societal trauma. Because Melbourne remains a city steeped in drugs.

Writer-director Tony Reck frames this as a “play about corruption. Corruption of the self; corruption of innocence; corruption of the body; and corruption within relationships occurring within a corrupt society” (program note). There is a raw, emotional tingle to Dirty Pictures, an authentic trauma trying to voice itself, and it comes out not in the stale images, but in their rhythm and repetition. The roles shift: all four characters inflict and suffer pain, sell and buy drugs; it is hard to keep track of character and plot, there is only a sort of rhythm to follow. The ensemble cast—all excellent—glide seamlessly between these arrested moments of violence, despair, relief, mania and boredom.

For those who know cycles of addiction, co-dependency and despair, it is this mindless, banal repetition and variation, same scenes with different actors, that will trigger recognition. Depicted here is the brutal anything-goes-ness of people caught up in vicious cycles they don't understand: the same aimless violence of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Dance of Death, just in the key of heroin.

Dirty Pictures Dirty Pictures
photo Angel Leggas; 3 Fates Media

Dirty Pictures, script, direction Tony Reck, performers Ange Arabatzis, Lucia Brancatisano, Willow Conway, Nick Stribakos, sound design Hugo Race, lighting design Matt Barber, La Mama Courthouse, Melbourne, 14-24 April

RealTime issue #132 April-May 2016 pg.

© Jana Perkovic; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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