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Indigenous Theatre Review

By Jennifer Tannoch-Bland - posted Thursday, 15 July 1999

What do they call me by Eva Johnson, performed directed and produced by Marie Andrews.

If you missed out on the two one-woman plays in Brisbane’s recent DÄR indigenous arts and cultural festival, do not despair. Margo Kane has returned to Canada with Moonlodge, but you might still persuade Marie Andrews to venture north from Melbourne for a return season of What do they call me. Email On Line Opinion now!

These two women on stage were so unbelievably exciting that I was on the email at MIDNIGHT the same night about them! I was floored by MARIE ANDREWS' tour de force in Eva Johnson’s What do they call me. Marie is a Bardi woman from the Kimberleys - an actor and a barrister. She plays three women - an alcoholic mother and her two daughters, one a social worker and one a dyke. This is the Stolen Generation from three Indigenous perspectives - and these women look not only at themselves but at the whiteness of the world (returning the gaze on white Australia), and at the possibilities for healing and partnership.


Marie’s Connie Brumbie is archetypal, a powerful Aboriginal mother-figure who appears first as a large black bundle of a woman in the darkness, viewed through the dramatic striped shadows of prison bars. Connie seems larger than life. Hardly moving from the one spot, she seems an immovable, symbolic force, despite the fact that she is so terribly abused. In the very moment we are appalled by the racism and sexism meted out to her, we find ourselves laughing with her over what she has done to the coppers. This capacity for humour in the worst circumstances, emblematic of Aboriginal life, is not commented on - it is just there.

Regina Brumbie is a professional woman with a great husband and children. Her struggle is due to the way she has been raised, ‘wrapped in a blanket of whiteness’ and ignorant of her Aboriginality, and to her adoptive mother's resistance to her search for identity. Regina’s blanket of whiteness seems to have deprived her of that deep well of humour from which her natural mother sips.

Some deft lighting effects and Alison Brumbie the fiesty dyke/ amazon/ feminist/ activist is before us - so physically different from her sister that we gasp. Alison’s passion and humour, and her relationship with her white lover, Sarah, bring us to the coal-face of race relations in Australia. There is a THEATRICAL SURPRISE in here, and I don't want to spoil it so email On Line Opinion and lure Marie to your town/city to see for yourself.

All three women are physically distinct, but it is Marie’s (and Eva Johnson's) amazing use of language that really creates three separate, convincing characters. They will all have you laughing and crying - and thinking. Not least about the implicit analysis of class, race and gender in the women's movement. THEN Marie stays on stage and has a chat with the audience - a perfect debriefing with a truly generous spirit. Audience verdict? FANTASTIC.

Watch out for Marie Andrews’ forthcoming one-woman musical show CLIT (Coloured Ladies In Theatre).

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About the Author

Jennifer Tannoch-Bland is a non-Indigenous PhD student who teaches part-time in History and Philosophy of Science at Griffith University, Brisbane. She is active in reconciliation initiatives, and was Co-ordinator of ANTaR Qld (Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation) in 1998. Since 1997 she has been involved in organising and facilitating whiteness workshops, a public lecture series, and a conference on whiteness. She is the Public Officer of Kooemba Jdarra Indigenous Performing Arts.

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