Not many people get the opportunity to tackle a play written by a Nobel-prize winning, Austrian woman. Even fewer people get to do it while playing one of the most famous white women in 20 th Century history. Reduce the margins even further for someone doing this from the perspective of an Indigenous actor, one who has a long history of performing in Australian-based, realist theatre. Meet Melodie Rose Reynolds.
“I’m playing Jackie Onassis, and it’s like a twelve-page monologue really. The way that [Jelinek, as a writer] speaks... there’s groupings of words that I’ve never seen in this sort of structure before, so as far as an actor goes, it’s definitely a challenge.”
Jelinek’s work doesn’t shy away from difficult issues, with her often-frank depictions of sex and violence and her gravitation towards controversial topics including feminism and sexuality. Princess Dramas explores how well-known women are portrayed, fictional or otherwise, and the oft-misogynistic representation of the “fairytale” woman. “I think [this play is] debunking the stereotypes and the icons of women [who] only have so much meaning in life because of a man...[like] Jackie O because of Jackie Kennedy, and the princess [who] only wakes when the prince kisses her in Sleeping Beauty.” says Reynolds.
Debunking such a powerful myth is no mean feat. As Reynolds notes, her part in the play “initially... felt overwhelming, but then once you’re in it, and guided by Andre [Bastian] the director, it actually does make sense once you come down to it. I’ve learned to look at the meaning in between the sentences.” Given Reynolds’s lack of familiarity with the kind of plays Jelinek writes, she was all the more appreciative of having a director, Andre Bastian, who is comfortable in this field. “Andre’s been fantastic in almost feeding me into a European style of theatre.”
Elfriede Jelinek might have made her name in the ‘70s, but her work still has a definite potential to resonate with audiences, particularly given the advertising-charged environment of today. Reynolds notes that “There’s a romanticism of [the princess myth]. Everyone likes to think of an ideal world, love and beauty and all that, but where do you stop? Look at any advertising these days about women and having to be a certain style and shape... that came out of the fairytale. In that respect, [fairytales] have a lot to answer for.”
While Jelinek’s work on its own is likely to interest audiences, Reynolds’ perspective on playing the role of Jackie O offers a whole new layer of meaning. Reynolds is an Indigenous actor playing a prodigiously famous white woman, who was celebrated for her femininity, grace and princess-like demeanour. You have to wonder; does Reynolds approach the role differently to a non-indigenous, white person?
“It’s hard to say... the spirit world in indigenous culture is quite relevant and tangible... [and] I like to think that I bring a spiritual aspect to a role even though it is a very intellectual, wordy play. I’m hoping that I can still have that storyteller’s spirit there.” It’s clear spirituality plays an important part in the way Reynolds views acting. “Words are a vibration in the world... when I do come at it in different roles, I bring that along with it,” she explains.
Performing in Princess Dramas has certainly forced Reynolds to step outside her comfort zone, but it sounds like tackling the complexity of Jelinek’s Princess Dramas was well worth the effort. “I’m sure I’ll be smiling about it later. But right now I feel like I’m underwater giving this interview, because I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of this play.”
Princess Dramas will be performed at Red Stitch Actors Theatre from Friday June 10 until Saturday July 2. Previews are on Wednesday June 8 and Thursday June 9. Tickets are $20-$34 and available at redstitch.net or 9533 8083. Red Stitch Actors Theatre is at Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda.