75: The Language of the Gods

4 Jun

I loved reading Louis Nowra’s play this morning. He has such a wonderful imagination, understanding of human weakness and way with words. (While I’ve been very put off by some of his political writing in recent times, particularly his bitter tirade against Germaine Greer, this play reminded me why he’s always remained on my list of favourite playwrights.)

book and plant

The Language of the Gods is full of heart and passion, and it also makes a sizzling statement about colonialism, responsibility and the horrors of oppression. It’s a play that creates a whole world, wonderfully resplendent with fully realised characters, customs and places. It’s a play that takes us out of our own skins and lets us feel life somewhere else, with different sensibilities.

The Dutch Braak family is living in The Celebes (Sulawesi, Indonesia) just after the end of WWII. The patriarch, Peter Braak, is the Governor of the area. He has a 20-year-old son, Theo, 17-year-old daughter, Doddy, and a younger, new Australian wife, Alice. Peter is besotted by his new wife and oblivious to her indifference. She plays with the emotions of Theo, enjoying an affair with her husband’s son, and then setting out to seduce her step-daughter’s boyfriend. None of her games seem to give her the slightest moment of remorse: where others might feel shame, she mocks.

ALICE: Poor, poor, burdened Braak. Am I burden?

BRAAK: Sometimes I feel my mind is like a bowl of porridge and you dip your finger in it and swirl it around so I don’t know what I’m thinking or how to reply to you.

Behind these familial dramas and intrigues, the outside world is changing. The Dutch no longer have firm control of the area, the Indonesians have started to revolt against their former masters and the rituals and beliefs that gave succour for generations are crumbling against the onslaught.

Two of the key players in the drama come from outside the family. One is Dely, a young Bissu (transvestite priest) and the other is the brutal Captain Westerling (a Dutch army officer who believes that the only way to govern is through force and fear).

WESTERLING: My job is finished here in the Celebes. Of the hundred and twenty-three men I brought here I lost only three. (Toasting BRAAK) Success, sir.

BRAAK: It’s been said that you killed over three thousand.

WESTERLING: A thousand for every month. The Republicans are finished in the Celebes. You don’t have to shelter in your home at night, Mr and Mrs Braak.

BRAAK: We never did.

Publisher: Currency Press

Cast: 4M, 4F (includes some doubling, could be played with 6M, 5F)

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