When a situation has no good outcome, it could be referred to as short blanket dilemma, meaning neither solution is ideal, as the blanket is too short to cover the whole body, leaving either the head or feet exposed. Filipinos have a proverb for it: When the blanket is short, learn how to bend meaning when there’s a compromise, learn how to adapt to it. Inspired by the proverb, Short Blanket by emerging Asian-Australian playwright Matt Bostock champions artistic integrity in a world governed by consumerism and media outlets that feed the public with stories they want to hear, not necessarily with what is truthful.
The situation revolves around emerging playwright Lainey (Andrea Magpulong), a Filipinx-Australian woman who is given a chance to share her story on the main stage. Her play is about racial abuse, drawing on her own experience of being subjected to it. But the powers that be deem it ‘too heavy’ for a mainstream audience that doesn’t want to be reminded of white guilt and white prejudices. Instead, they want ‘humour’ and ‘humanity’ to make it ‘more engaging’. Lainey is warned that if she can’t come up the goods, her job is replaceable. Conflicted with writing from the heart vs writing for the masses (‘the people that actually buy tickets’), Lainey is struggling to find a way to keep her integrity, her self-respect and her job intact.
Produced by Slanted Theatre, this creative realisation of Bostock’s unique storytelling is brilliant, and relatable. While its heavy exposition would normally risk being superfluous, here it works perfectly to bring out the points of view of the main characters. Delivered with punch and fierce intensity, the result is intellectually stimulating, sincere and powerful. As each situation unfolded, I found myself thinking, ‘me too!’ It was not that long ago, for example, that I was told by a HR Department that I didn’t fit into their ‘white bread culture’.
The play’s concept is on par with Frontline, the acclaimed satirical show about the world of TV journalism that explores such outrageous candour, often expressed by TV executives that sugar-coat their snarky racism and misogyny under the pretext of utilitarianism i.e. good ratings = job security. If good ratings means stirring the pot by perpetuating stereotypes about minority groups while making audiences feel comfortable about their white privilege, so be it!!!
Bostock uses a similar meta-device, a play-within-a-play, where two principal actors, Joey (Joseph Tanti) and Dominique (Dominique Purdue) are rehearsing various scenes of racial confrontation between a woman of Filipino origin and a white male. Each scenario is different, ranging from a casual fling to a creative space to a war zone, but always making a statement about prejudice and power between people of different backgrounds and status.
Helping them to unpack their thoughts and shape the production is Camille (Sayuri Narroway) as the director, who is also urging Lainey to rewrite scenes to appease the show’s artistic director Gloria (Monica Russell). Gloria is the driving force behind the kind of diversity she feels audiences will want to see, such as Queer Death of A Salesman. Diversity in her world only has its place if it’s fun and cute and ‘non-threatening’.
The coterie of actors have a blast bringing authentic performances to the stage, including ‘non-consensual acting choices’ as mentioned in the program notes. Fortunately, no seemed to get physically hurt, but there is a lot of raw energy in the dynamic between Joey and Dominique; it jolts like electricity, taking you to the extreme edge of racial violence, and snaps you back to safety, as they cut and reset for the next scene.
With a brave ensemble cast, bold direction under Tiffany Wong and wonderfully ‘dense and weird’ script as described by Matt Bostock, Short Blanket is an inclusive, cathartic and thought-provoking production that ticks all the boxes for a fantastic night at the theatre.
Short Blanket presented by Slanted Theatre is playing at Meraki Arts Bar until 3 June 2023. For tickets and showtimes go to https://slantedtheatre.com/short-blanket/
Image credit: Phil Erbacher