How a writer’s experience of a racist attack shapes one theatre company’s play on power and race is at the heart of Short Blanket.
On the top floor of Meraki Arts Bar in Darlinghurst, the audience are welcomed to a play within a play’s rehearsals from new independent writer Lainey (Andrea Magpulong). Still reeling from their own experience with racism that infuses their newly written story, they are trying to bring to the stage an honest exploration of race, much to the chagrin of producer Gloria (Monica Russell). Between the two, there is a tension around the marketability of topics like representation, racism and violence that is deftly debated between the ongoing rehearsals.
Meanwhile, actors Joey (Joseph Tanti) and Dominique (Dominique Purdue) are brought in as part of the workshop, under the direction of Camille (Sayuri Narroway). Initially friends, things become more fractured as the lines between their characters and personalities begin to blur, particularly as conversations around their own experiences come to the fore. In fact, scenes that aim to explore race and its tensions soon overflow into their creative processes and decisions, fracturing their relationship.
Short Blanket is a play that tries to tackle systemic racism and how it is factored into institutions and creative arts spaces, and new writer Matt Bostock goes for the jugular in shining a light on these challenges. Some characters feel like archetypes as if to deliberately stir conversation, however others feel fleshed out and brought to life by the outstanding team. Naturally being able to explore this in such a short run time is difficult, and leaves wanting more, but doesn’t discount the ugly mirror raised to the creative arts and their institutions faces. Furthermore, choosing to present the story nonlinear doesn’t necessarily serve the narrative better. It gives some dimension to the evolving nature of the relationships within walls of the rehearsal space, and leaves the audience shaken by its brutal lasting scene.
The acting is strong across the board, with particularly fearless performances by Tanti and Purdue. Tanti’s seamless transition between the monsters he portrays in the play and the actor Joey outside it demonstrates his breadth of talent, as well as how his expression alone conveys his emotion. Similarly, Purdue soars with every moment, a vision on stage and with natural delivery, even if their accent sometimes feels out of place in the Australian context.
Magpulong is brilliant as Lainey, with a deep intensity almost verging on over the top, but delivers their vision and intent with clarity to allow the audience to empathise with her. Narroway, the wedge in the middle of the conflict, is played sympathetically and even though they have little to do, makes their input worth it. Russell does what she can with Gloria, but unfortunately feels too one note due to a lack of depth in the writing of their character. Instead, she plays her as the sellout producer who aims to please other factions within the company over portraying a realistic story that might unsettle the audiences.
Director Tiffany Wong makes strong use of the space and is complimented by set designer Aloma Barnes’ vision of a stage and office desk on the side to allow for easy staging transitions. Sound by Prema Yin is used effectively and enhances the performance, particularly towards the end, with considered costumes by Rachel Pui Hui Yan throughout.
Short Blanket is full of intense emotions and thematically similar vignettes to make an impact on the audience, and stumbles on its way to deliver a string of important messages, with some positive results. Despite this, its final scene is haunting and reminds us of where the pain in these creative ventures stem from, and how important it is to have these real life moments reflected in our arts.