Story: Maymay is dropped off by her daughter, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, so that she can tend to some “unfinished business.” With her new cell phone as her mode of communication, she makes her way to an old cattle station in western Australia where she toiled half a century earlier.
An Aboriginal woman, Maymay recounts her youth working for a surly white boss who treated his indigenous employees as little more than slaves. Despite the harsh life, Maymay tells her story with warmth and humor as she recalls Boss’ kindly wife, a gentle crippled Aboriginal named Wunman, her beau and future husband Malvern, another young Aboriginal woman named Sally who vied for Malvern’s affections, a mongrel mixture of dog and dingo named Skitchim, and others.
As she surveys the abandoned cattle station that lies in the shadow of an old windmill, Maymay revives memories she has carried in her heart for 50 years as she brings old heartaches to a sense of solace and conclusion.
Highlights: Once again, Upstream Theater founder and artistic director Philip Boehm has brought an international gem to his theater for its American premiere. Windmill Baby is a tight and compelling one-act work written by David Milroy, an Australian playwright of Aboriginal descent, that received its world premiere in Perth in 2005.
Windmill Baby reminds its audience that the history of racism extends beyond the United States and South Africa into the land of Down Under as well, with the ramifications of that injustice still felt today. Maymay’s youth in the 1950s was every bit as harrowing as the lives of blacks in the American South or in apartheid South Africa of that era.
Thanks to the theatrical wonder known as Linda Kennedy, Milroy’s touching story is brought to heartfelt life on Upstream’s stage. Enhanced by Boehm’s meticulous direction and the haunting musical accompaniment of versatile composer and musician Farshid Soltanshahi, Windmill Baby brings light to the dark history of Australian colonialism.
Other Info: Technical designs accentuate this one-woman show, from the carefully orchestrated lighting provided by Tony Anselmo that adds touching closure near the play’s end, to the colorful, festive attire adorning the upbeat Maymay from costumer Keaton Treece, to Claudia Horn’s judiciously selected props (an old stool, a tiny potato).
Most noticeable is Patrick Huber’s scenic design, which is anchored by the looming remnant of a solitary windmill in the center offset by a lonely clothes line on which Maymay hangs the forgotten relics found in an upside down basket.
Soltanshahi is situated at far stage right, soulfully complementing Kennedy’s deft story telling with a range of instruments that include guitar, harmonica and unusual pieces such as kora, kalimba, tar and “special slide instruments of his own invention,” as stated in the program.
All of these elements bolster the impressive range Kennedy displays as she portrays not only Maymay but a half-dozen people (and a dog) who shaped her youth. Kennedy moves in almost balletic fashion across the barren floor as her stylish steps embellish Maymay’s bittersweet memories.
Kennedy can bring the mood of Milroy’s lilting tale down to a somber note as she recalls the aching torment that followed the birth of the title character. She also can elevate it to exhilarating, emotional heights, as when she recites a memorable tea party hosted by the benevolent Missus before it turns suddenly nasty.
There’s an amusing scene with an audience member as Maymay tells an old bromide about a pumpkin and a potato. She conveys a precise portrayal of Wonman’s physical deformities as well as his sweet inner nature, then deftly descends to the bellicose behavior of the loutish Boss.
And she has great fun lampooning her beloved, late husband as she humorously points out his many deficiencies, from homely looks to unspectacular sexual performance to his substantially limited musical ability with a mouth organ.
Maymay’s story as told by Milroy in Windmill Baby may not be unique, but seeing Kennedy unveil it under Boehm’s finely attuned direction offers a simple tale told in affecting fashion.
Play: Windmill Baby
Group: Upstream Theater
Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand
Dates: May 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11
Tickets: $20-$30; contact email@example.com
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Peter Wochniak