Review: The Backstories: Moya Dodd (Contemporary Asian Australian Performance)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Feb 2 – 3, 2018
Playwright: Moya Dodd
Directors: Annette Shun Wah, William Yang
Cast: Moya Dodd
Image by William Yang

Theatre review
It is, sometimes, good to blow one’s own trumpet. In The Backstories: Moya Dodd, our eponym presents an autobiography with no trauma, no sensationalism and no great drama. Her life is peaceful, with so many proud successes that one might be tempted to call her lucky. The fact remains however, that Dodd is of Asian heritage, a woman, and a lesbian in Australia. The cards are clearly stacked against her, so even though she rejects the portrayal of herself as victim in any form of subjugation, it is important that we perceive that her achievements as real, and not a circumstance of chance. Dodd does not discuss hardships, but we already know the kind of world that we share.

Dodd speaks gently; her voice is calm, almost mesmeric in quality, but it is a defiant statement that she makes. Her accomplishments, personal and professional, are by all measures extraordinary. In the face of white, heteronormative, patriarchal forces that try to rule everything, and that will attempt to sublimate any story that contradicts their control of narratives, proclamations like Dodd’s are hugely important. For the majority of Australians who are routinely told that we are second class, a life well lived, and being public about it, is the best retaliation.

The script is well constructed, with smatterings of humour and pathos to accompany Dodd’s thoughtful assemblage of memories. Her delivery is wonderfully warm and therefore captivating, although a teleprompter or some similar system, would make for a more enjoyable experience. Musician Gareth Chin provides effective accompaniment on keyboards, and assists with Dodd’s recalling of the text. Two screens featuring photography through the years from the Dodd family, enhance immeasurably the production’s ability to engage our emotions. Direction by Annette Shun Wah and William Yang is incredibly delicate, and the result is something remarkably elegant, with a a quiet poignancy that proves to be quite haunting.

In free countries like Australia, it is true that we can be whatever we want to be, but the importance of role models must never be underestimated. We can only become what we can imagine, and our imaginations need sustenance. Moya Dodd’s backstory sets an example for masses of outsiders, all of us who sometimes fall into the misbelief that things are beyond our reach, or that entitlement belongs only to others. Spaces are evolving, and we have to understand our right to inhabit them.