Saturday, May 3, 2014

WINDMILL BABY • Upstream Theater

Upstream Theater continues its "Down Under" season with Australian playwright David Milroy's "Windmill Baby". Upstream once again ushers in a US premiere that was first presented in 2005 in Perth, Australia. This one-woman show revolves around Maymay Starr (Linda Kennedy), an Aboriginal woman who has returned to the cattle station where she spent her youth to put some unfinished business to rest.

After her daughter drops her off and she has a good look around the dusty and broken down homestead, the business she starts with is hanging up some very old, long-dry laundry she finds in a washtub. Hanging up the washing for the Missus is something Maymay's all too familiar with, and the busy work gives her a chance to recall 50 years of bottled up memories about the relationships she formed during the service to her ill-tempered boss on this now deserted patch of western Australia.

Linda Kennedy (Maymay Starr).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
She and the other workers at the station labored like slaves, but Maymay thinks back on her memories with nostalgic affection, and brings several characters to life along the way, including fond memories of a shopping trip with Malvern, the stockman and Maymay's eventual husband, Sally, the homestead cook who proved a little competition for Malvern's affections, a memorable night at a tea party hosted by the kind-hearted Missus, Wunman, the crippled gardener who has an undying affection for the boss's wife, wise old Aunty Darballa, and even the loyal camp mutt, a dingo named Skitchim. As the stories unfold, the business of her trip narrows, encompassed in an arching tale of servitude, love and the tragedies and consequences of the time.

Kennedy deftly strings together the recollections in Milroy's script, changing in tone and physicality on a dime, singing and dancing, pulling in an audience member for a charming onstage lesson, and inhabiting each memory with compelling characterization and connection. Patrick Huber's scenic design of the cattle station features the rusty remnants of an old bed, clothesline and fence, a wooden cart in what was once Wunman's garden, and the looming base of the windmill, with Tony Anselmo's lighting design shifting along with Maymay's memories, with subtle shadows of the windmill blades. Farshid Soltanshahi serves as the sole musician and composer, underscoring the action with a rich texture of sounds, filling in for everything from the sounds of the windmill blades when the wind kicks up to the ringtone on Maymay's cell phone.

Linda Kennedy (Maymay Starr).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
I think I've mentioned this before, but one-person shows tend to give me pause. I mean, holding an audiences' attention for a while is a daunting task after all, right? Well, Linda Kennedy is up to it, and then some, and it's always nice to have my presumed reservations blown the hell up. Check out this enchanting premiere that runs until the 11th.


Written by David Milroy
Directed by Philip Boehm
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through May 11 | tickets: $20 - $30
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm, May 11 3pm only

Linda Kennedy (Maymay Starr).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
Linda Kennedy (Maymay Starr).
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak

Linda Kennedy* (Maymay Starr).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Patrick Huber; costume design by Keaton Treece; lighting design by Tony Anselmo; prop design by Claudia Horn; stage manager, Patrick Siler.

Guitar, harmonica, kora, kalimba, tar, slide instruments, Farshid Soltanshahi.

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