Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 21 – Aug 26, 2017
Playwright: Michele Lee
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Kristy Best, Hsiao-Ling Tang
Image by Brett Boardman
Yvette cleans Nisha’s office, but it is not the company employing them, that brings them together. Both are Asian-Australian women, and although their personal concerns and interests are miles apart, there is something intrinsic about being ethnic minorities, and of being “the fairer sex”, that makes it easy for them to bond. In Michele Lee’s Rice, we encounter two distinct and fascinating personalities; people we see everyday in our cities, but who rarely make an appearance in the stories we tell in the arts and media. They are regular people, as all our surface pretences portray us to be, but Nisha and Yvette have revelations that are rich enough for any stage or screen.
The two women are imagined with beautiful detail by their playwright. We learn about their worlds, their problems and the way they negotiate life at every turn. Through these keen observations, Lee is able to offer an accurate reflection of how many of us are, in today’s Australia. These ideas however, do not necessarily combine readily for great drama or comedy. The play begins very slowly, with excessive focus on Nisha’s tiresome corporate career, which she pursues with admirable ferocity and little humour. When we discover Yvette’s difficulties at home, the narrative suddenly tightens, but our focus is made to disperse, in Rice‘s ambitions for a more complex structure of storytelling.
We watch Nisha and Yvette go through an emotional time, but we are rarely moved. There is much to cover, and we are rushed through every scene and every possible piquancy. Actors Kristy Best and Hsiao-Ling Tang are the model of conviction, both unshakeable and glorious in their confidence. Best in particular is extraordinarily energetic, especially impressive when playing subsidiary roles, but there is a sense that the actors are compensating for a piece of writing that can otherwise feel muted and underwhelming. We are engaged with the show, usually because the performances are so intense.
The women are an unlikely pairing, and the trust they have for each other is reassuring, though surprising. Against the oppressive power wielded by white men, that attempts to destroy all that they hold dear, Nisha and Yvette find a friendship that offers support and strength. The disparities that exist between them, in the illusory shape of social status, education, wealth and sophistication, are dissolved by a patriarchy that is determined to leave them stripped of all but the perceived weakness of being feminine and coloured. We see them forming an alliance through those very qualities of disparagement, and we await retaliation.