Sunday, 19 September 1999
Normie and Tuan, Sept 19, 1999
by Alex Buzo
at La Mama until October 3, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
In Australia, we may outwardly have a more sophisticated and cosmopolitan culture compared with that of 1969. We have restaurants and languages from 90 or more countries. However, racism has not been obliterated. It has merely expanded its targets to a greater variety of immigrants.
Alex Buzo's 1969 play, Norm and Ahmed, was about a back lane meeting between an Aussie bloke and a Pakistani immigrant. It was performed in the car park of La Mama and resides in La Mama history as the play which caused an actor to be arrested for saying "**** boong". He was arrested for the swear word.
In these days of more relaxed obscenity laws and more enforceable racial vilification laws, the actors are more likely to be arrested for the racial slur.
Normie and Tuan is Buzo's 1999 update of the original idea. A South East Asian character, Tuan, (Thanh van Nguyen) replaces Ahmed. It is a short, well-structured play with pithy dialogue and clearly drawn characters. Director, Greg Carroll, has set it in the lane behind La Mama.
It is after midnight in a quiet Sydney street. Tuan, a Malaysian-Vietnamese overseas student waits for a bus after finishing his restaurant job. Normie, (James Shaw) a cook in a Chinese restaurant, arrives playing Jimmy Hendrix at full volume on his ghetto blaster. He is a Vietnam veteran whose attitudes to Asians are unreadable. All we know is that he is volatile and frightening.
In a powerful performance, Shaw captures an edge of dangerous unpredictability and demonstrates the scattergun effect of Normie's anger at losing his job, his wife and his self-worth.
He taunts and teases Tuan, shifting between threats and jokes, questions and accusations, racism and mateship. As time passes Tuan begins to trust him and so do we.
Shaw's bluff blokiness is charming and dangerous but we hope Normie's friendliness is genuine. Nguyen is suitably youthful as Tuan, combining sweetness with tough ambition. Carroll keeps the pace rapid, the tension high and the action constant.
Take a coat on a cold night, but see this.
by Kate Herbert