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Many lives in one

Mary Ann Hunter

In the opening of Toni Allayialis’ My Of-Course Life the tropical North is evoked through an appeal to the senses: the description of an “indigo blue Queenslander”, the sight of frangipanis, the scent of garlic being cooked on stage. In weaving the stories of 5 women connected by culture and bloodlines, the central character, Alithea, juggles contemporary motherhood—including the inevitable ‘of course’ days when everything seems to go wrong—with the mythical and the lyrical aspects of her ancestry. Hence we are transported from a far north Queensland backyard to Croatia, England and the shores of Greece through the experiences of many women’s lives and the themes of migration and journeying. These are gutsy, poignant and sometimes bleak tales punctuated by the gentle comedy of Alithea’s everyday adventures with her 2 young children.

‘Alithea’ means truth and the performance revolves around Alithea sharing the collective truths of the lives of her mother, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. In a classic quest narrative she also seeks the truth of her ‘vision’—is it a gift or a curse? The mystical is induced by the words of her gypsy grandfather: “What you can see is real, what you can’t see is very real.” This is further emphasised by an engaging interplay of non-visual elements: the aroma of the simmering hot pot, the sounds of the sea and running water, and Allayialis’ singing of Greek songs, mostly of loss.

The bitter-sweetness of Alithea’s multicultural and refugee heritage is portrayed in these songs and in the many choreographed waves of goodbye. Physically, her ancestors’ stealth in the face of adversity is as prominent in The Dance of Zolongou (which portrays the real life fate of a Greek village of women and children who danced to their death over a cliff to escape murder by the Turkish army) as in the sexy joie de vivre of Alithea’s gypsy mother Luvitsa, who deals with the prospect of an arranged marriage. Although at one level the performance is about family, the phrase “blood is not thicker than water” is repeated often and we also meet a range of other extraordinary women, including 2 very funny Cuban cabaret singers who share in Alithea’s life and passions.

The performance is rich in metaphor and Allayialis displays impressive skill in her transitions from one character to another while keeping the quest narrative and celebratory commemoration of these women’s diverse experiences alive. Importantly, there’s time in the performance to reflect and engage with the depth of feeling in these stories. For instance, after the Zolongou dance Allayialis offers the audience a prolonged moment of devastating revelation, effected by the singular sound of flowing water.

On stage, more water is transferred from bucket to tub as each story is shared and we again return to Alithea, her children and their preparations for New Year ‘s Eve on a humid tropical night. With the new year comes the final breaking of the “Katara curse.” With newfound freedom and insight, Alithea performs a ritual bathing in a flower-strewn tub, indicating that ‘it’s time’ to be fortified by the stories of her past and embrace life anew.

JUTE (Just Us Theatre Ensemble), My Of-Course Life, writer, performer Toni Allayialis, director Maryanne Lynch; Brisbane Festival, Cremorne Theatre, QPAC, September 29-Oct 9

RealTime issue #64 Dec-Jan 2004 pg. 42

© Mary Ann Hunter; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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