Thursday, 1 May 1997

Dock 39 by IRAA Theatre, May 1, 1997

Dock 39 by IRAA Theatre
At Theatreworks until May 18, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around April 30, 1997
Deconstruction is a funny thing. In theatre it can enlighten and heighten issues with its prismatic effect or it can merely obscure them. In Dock 39, the latest production from IRAA Theatre, both are true.

Director Renato Cuocolo has written the text but includes scraps from Beckett, Brodsky, Dickinson and Duras. The piece explores immigration and alienation using documents from the Department of Immigration and community welfare organisations.

Most importantly, it highlights the real life of Agata, a young Italian woman who was caretaker of Dock 39 where immigrant arrivals checked their belongings. Agata is the mouthpiece of dislocated persons, all those in exile for political, social or economic reasons.

The floor of the theatre-in-the-round is strewn with clothing. Acclaimed Italian actor, Roberta Bosetti, artist in residence with IRAA, paces around the square of her entrapment, hanging clothes from shipping ropes, folding them roughly, dressing undressing, wearing a coat which reminds her of a lost lover. Clothing is identity. Each article represents a name, a person, a lost past. "People don't like their old clothes." They are painful reminders.

Projections of unreadable words litter the already littered floor - like a foreign language. The actor talks and talks. Initially it is wordy and incomprehensible because of Bosetti's accent and the density of the text but she connects more fully with the words as it becomes more personal and we are drawn in to Agata's passionate, frightened, lonely world.

There is no narrative thread, just snatches of thoughts, memories, names and concepts of alienation and loss. It is accompanied by a wonderful vocal and musical soundscape by Elizabeth Drake. This play is less lyrical than much of Cuocolo's previous work. It does not leave us swimming headily in a sea of images and sensations. Perhaps it has a more didactic intention. Perhaps he wants us to leave thinking rather than feeling this time.

The piece is most successful from about twenty minutes in when Bosetti's power starts to drive slowly and assuredly towards a final crescendo. As she dropped to the now partially stripped floor, we experienced the first moment of absolute silence for an hour. We waited, shifted, wondered. "Is it the end?"  She lay there fully three minutes as we waited for the first courageous applause.


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