Detroit: Review

Claire Lovering, James O'Connell, Ed Wightman (c) Gez Xavier Mansfield
Claire Lovering, James O’Connell, Ed Wightman (c) Gez Xavier Mansfield

It’s awfully difficult to make me miss the place where I was born; Detroit Michigan, USA. Detroit is a place riddled with conflict. It’s a grey and uneasy place, and my memories of it are depressed and tangled, distraught and muddled. My family would always talk of the good times they had growing up there, and I could just never picture it. The city has been suffering huge financial, aesthetic, and economic hardship for as long as I can remember. It’s not a happy place.

So to see a theatre production that bears that name of this dark chasm of my childhood, I was very wary of what about my hometown would be uncovered. Would I laugh? Would I cry? Would my city be depicted properly, in all its guts and glory?

The short answer is yes.

Darlinghurst Theatre’s production Detroit did not disappoint. In fact, it soared. With each breathy, poetic line I was transported back to this wasteland and felt longing, disgust, sadness, and a realisation of what the place really means. The fiery and heart wrenching script is the Pulizter Prize finalist play written by Lisa D’Amour of New Orleans. The stage takes direction from Ross McGregor and is performed by a genuine and passionate cast.

We follow the lives of two couples as they battle the economic downturn that is modern-day Detroit. Mary (Lisa Chappell) and her husband Ben (Ed Wightman) invite their new neighbours Sharon (Claire Lovering) and Kenny (James O’Connell) to their house for dinner. It’s just days after Sharon and Kenny’s arrival in the what was once an almost abandoned home next door. The opening up of their home to the young couple is a bold move for Mary and Ben, who are struggling with alcoholism and financial hardship. But Sharon and Kenny embrace the welcoming arms of their new hosts and neighbours, with Sharon bursting into tears on their first night there and then revealing that she and Kenny have just come out of rehab.

We follow the lives of these two struggling couples as they collide, crash, mingle, and coalesce. The play becomes a total breaking down of all walls, of all possessions, of all sense of coherence. We learn that from nothing there can be anything, but sometimes you have to get to nothing before you can keep going.

The nostalgia for me came out through the themes expressed with great attention to detail and style. The couples gather around food; and it’s heavy, greasy American food at its best. Steaks, hot dogs, burgers, potatoes; all dosed up over and over. It’s excessive, but oh so American. And then there’s the breaking apart. Bodies on stage get trampled, broken open, bumped and bruised. The whole thing feels heavy, unstable, bloody, and sweaty. Something must give way, and boy does it give way.

Finished off with an eloquent and hugely nostalgic monologue delivered by Ronald Falk, Detroit comes full circle by showing us that oftentimes the circle doesn’t feel so full at all. Most of the time, the paths we tread are littered with doubt and hardship, and we walk them with bravery and naivety. Then we come to a fork in the road and a new option arises, a new adventure awaits. If we shy away purely because this adventure might break our foundations, then really, what will ever change?

In The Unlikely Event: Review

in-the-unlikely-event-judy-blumeJudy Blume is a well-known American author famous for novels such as Are You There God? It’s me Margaret, and Superfudge. I consider Blume to be the voice of my American, teenage girl upbringing. She’s both an uplifting yet incredibly honest writer; truly an inspiration to read then and now. So when I heard that Blume was writing again, my heart definitely skipped a few beats.

In Blume’s first adult novel in almost 20 years, In The Unlikely Event, we follow the worst year of Miri Ammerman’s life. Based on the actual events that occurred in the early 1950s of Blume’s own hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, the novel explores how three planes tumbling from the sky and crashing into Elizabeth changed the lives of not just those directly affected by the disasters but by all the inhabitants of the once quiet town.

Miri is 15 years old. She is the daughter of Rusty Ammerman but doesn’t know her father, and she’s about to fall in love for the first time with a young boy named Mason. Amidst the pre-Christmas shopping chaos, a plane speeds over Miri and Rusty as they leave the cinema, eventually landing in the river nearby, killing everyone on board. This catastrophic event will be the first of three that will change Miri’s life forever.

First it’s Miri’s best friend Natalie that begins to change for the worst. Natalie is strangely affected by the first crash, and then again by the second, then by the time the third crash comes around she is no longer herself. Natalie feels as if she now inhabits the essence of a dancer killed in the river crash named Ruby Granik. Natalie hears her voice, and those killed in the other crashes. She begins to become deeply obsessed with dancing and in the process becomes anorexic and incredibly ill.

The family and friendship dynamics of people in Miri’s life also begin to falter. From the loss of a young girl Miri used to babysit, Pamela, to the utter grief felt by Ben Sapphire after he loses his loving wife, the connections between everyone around Miri are no longer the same. Some people become incredibly disconnected, like Natalie and Mrs Barnes, and others hold on tighter to those around them, like Henry (Miri’s Uncle) and Miri herself. Throughout this horrible year, the town of Elizabeth protests against the airport because it continues to operate, only for it to finally be taken down after the three horrific crashes. In a time when flying in planes was new and finally affordable enough for the average American, the three crashes succeed in making only one thing clear; life is precarious. Irene, Miri’s grandmother, gives Miri advice on how to move forward through these events. She tells her that life goes on, and although Miri is so young she can barely understand that this may be the case, and cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s a lesson she tries her best to take into consideration.

In true Blume style, there is much more to this novel than just the storyline at the surface.  We learn, along with Miri, about relationships, cheating, parenting, losing and gaining new friends, dealing with death head-on, and most importantly, about growing up. There are also specs of even more serious events going on, and these are revealed carefully throughout the novel as happenings that are kept secret for either good or bad reasons, but nonetheless they affect people in a myriad of ways. Daisy, for instance, is a young woman who works with Dr. O at his dental practice, is revealed to be missing certain female parts. Christina, who also works at the dental practice, falls in love with an Irish boy instead of a good Greek boy like her family intends for her. In a decade when these unavoidable things would have been unacceptable, it’s interesting to see Blume explore why and how secrets such as these were kept before it was seen as appropriate to make them public. The secrets that are weaved throughout In The Unlikely Event, then, are both indicative of the time and place of the novel but also point to our modern-day views and ask us, what do we think of them now?

The novel concludes with Miri returning to Elizabeth thirty-five years after that horrible year. We see her as a grown-up who has her own, new set of problems, but her existence as a child living through the year of plane crashes in what Americans began to call ‘Plane Crash City’ is still as relevant than ever. She is both herself and not herself upon her return, and we learn once and for all that life does go on.

Inside Out: Review

Inside-Out-posterInside Out, Disney Pixar’s latest film, follows the pre-pubescent years of young Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), a hockey-loving, family-orientated young girl whose life seems absolutely perfect – until her parents make her move with them from Minnesota to San Francisco. This sudden change prompts a swirl of uncontrollable emotions; those complex ones that are difficult to understand and deal with, especially for a young adult. The main protagonists of the film are the emotions living inside Riley’s head: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Anger (Lewis Black). Throughout the intense changes in Riley’s life, her emotions struggle to deal with the huge ups and downs. Most of the action takes place inside Riley’s head where the emotions live. The depiction of this inner neural area is not just Pixar-animated cuteness; it’s incredibly clever. Riley’s emotions spend their time in ‘headquarters’ where they ‘control’ how Riley feels. When Joy and Sadness end up getting shot out into her neural network, a scary and unknown maze of unpredictable proportions, they must find their way back to headquarters. What they learn along the way is that Riley doesn’t need just Joy or just Sadness to survive, she needs both of them, in fact all of her emotions, to learn, deal with, and experience her every day life.

There is so much about Pixar’s latest film Inside Out that is absolutely perfect.  It makes you laugh out loud, makes your face wet with big sloppy tears, makes you really think about mental health, pop culture, growing up, parenthood, and stress, and to top it all off the animation is spotless, imaginative, and fun. I would call Inside Out our modern day version of The Lion King, but in saying that I’d have to admit one thing. I think it’s better than The Lion King.

How dare I say this, you ask? Well, here’s why:

Inside Out tackles just about everything that kids – and adults – need to know about living in our modern world, from how to deal with puberty, changing emotions, parenting, working, dreaming, fitting in, not fitting in, eating, loving … just about everything! It succeeds in being truthful and compassionate whilst staying amazingly silly.

It’s beautiful be told in a kid’s film that feeling sad is actually okay, and that sometimes when you are happy you can also feel angry or that fear can often lead to joy, and these feelings are okay too. Inside Out teaches us to accept everything we feel, teaches us that it’s normal to be complicated, to hurt, to love, to laugh, and that this is what makes us, us.

The writers, director, and creators of Insidie Out certainly didn’t seem to have had anyone breathing down their necks while they were making it; the film feels genuine. It’s a huge breath of fresh air to see a studio produce something so freaking beautiful and at the same time something that points its finger and laughs at mental health stigma and the denial of women’s rights; themes that exist in multiple Disney films but that are explored in a new way in Inside Out.

Although not an explicitly feminist film, Inside Out produces a female protagonist who isn’t unattainably gorgeous; she’s in fact a bit nerdy, and a bit shy. She also feels depressed, and this isn’t mocked, but is in fact celebrated. Being a young, and sometimes confused, girl is not looked down upon; her inner workings take centre stage and are treated sympathetically. The spotlight shines on a girl we can all relate to, instead of some super skinny, strangely-proportioned princess.

Inside Out takes a huge stand against mental health stigma, a bold political move by Pixar but damn, I am delighted it’s finally happened. This is a film I will show my kids. This is a film every child should watch as part of their school curriculum. This is a film that will truly make a difference in our hectic, crazy world. If you don’t believe me, do a simple Google search, and you’ll see an array of articles, opinion pieces, and reviews already online about how much this flick has effected people across the globe. All we can only hope from here is that the message really sinks in; that we all take the lessons shown and apply it to our everyday life.