Wednesday 24 October, Fairfax Studio, Melbourne Arts Centre
I wanted to ask Young Jean Lee what she had for breakfast after seeing her Melbourne Festival show. Why? Well, I wanted her to tell me something I didn’t know. Does that sound harsh? Get ready for a rant because this is shit I don’t like.
Theoretically, I should have enjoyed this show immensely. It’s a blend of stuff I usually lap up — music, theatre, ruminations on the fragility of life, and the inevitability of death. Hell, even Lou Reed, one of my heroes, endorsed it. But I just sat there. Mildly engaged, slightly distracted, waiting for a revelation that, to be fair, I knew was never going to come. Young Jean Lee is nothing if not honest.
At the outset, she made it clear that she wasn’t going to make any profound revelations about mortality, and here’s her rationale, as I understand it: nobody is immune from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and there’s basically fuck-all we can do to avoid calamitous disease, decay and death. Yes, you can run on for a long time, but sooner or later you will be cut down — shat on, spat on, chewed up and turned to insignificant dust. Your heart will almost certainly be shattered, and your brain may even be splattered all over the long and winding road. There’s no point falling down on your knees and railing against the injustice of it all because, you guessed it, we’re all going to die. Bad things happen to good people all the time, and there’s little we can do to ease the pain of life except share war stories and listen empathetically (this helps one endure, apparently). That’s the extent of the woman’s thesis, I think. The pain of mortality is a banal fact of human existence. Ms. Lee’s take on the subject is understated and subtle, perhaps a little too understated and subtle.
Lee’s hour-long show basically comprises of monologues about bad shit that’s happened to her. From having her heart broken by her first real boyfriend to the tragic and apparently preventable death of her father, Lee shares her personal experience of how shitty life can be through stories and a collection of pop songs. She’s backed by a group of youngish musicians who look like cartoon hipsters wearing checked shirts, and casually tousled hair. The band is competent, but Lee’s simple tunes are as bland and inoffensive as the musicians’ clothes. They look and sound like a generic college band, which is in keeping with the slightly quirky, low-key aesthetic that Lee deliberately projects. The performance had the look and feel of a hastily thrown together fringe show, not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but Lee comes with a serious reputation as one of America’s up and coming playwrights, so my expectations were, perhaps unreasonably, high.
Anyway, what ever happened to raging against the dying of the light?