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A CurtainUp Review
Daisy In the Dreamtime
By Macey Levin

Nothing happens in theworld without spirit.
---King Bill

Holly Powell and Jodie Lynn McClintock
Holly Powell & Jodie Lynn McClintock. (Photo: Tom Bloom)
The world has long known of the cataclysmic effects Western European civilization has had on presumably less-sophisticated cultures. Native Americans, Incans, Mayans, the tribes of Africa have all felt the weight of the conqueror. The victimization of the Southwest Australian Aborigines captures our attention in Daisy in the Dreamtime. A small part of their story unfolds in this new play based on the true experiences of Daisy Bates by Lynne Kaufman at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex.

In the 1920's Daisy, a transplanted Dubliner, dedicated herself to protecting the aboriginal culture, defending it against the encroaching power of a determined missionary and her church, the railroad and western culture. The grandmother who raised Daisy taught her that fairies exist along with the Holy Trinity. This belief in different spiritualities reinforces Daisy's strength when she journeys to the Australian Outback for adventure. There she meets King Billy, a native with great insight to the mysteries of life and human evolution. He tells Daisy that the past, the present and the future are omni-present. This is Dreamtime.

Though she lives in a tent constantly invaded by the red dust and she has to trudge 3 miles for water, Daisy revels in her life. She maintains a Victorian attitude and continues to wear Victorian garb; she views and continuously refers to the aborigines as "my people." When missionary Annie Lock arrives with the best of western and Christian intentions, she becomes a formidable obstacle to the life Daisy foresees for the land and its people.

The play is the story of the conflicting visions and the relationship of the two women. Though it moves at a measured pace, we are drawn into Daisy's life through her monologues and the several flashbacks of the moments that define her existence. The deleterious effect of Christian missionaries on a primitive culture and its religion is also at the core of the play. The personal stories and the broader thematic elements complement each other and give the play a strong and dramatic structure.

The production is well staged by Kim T. Sharp who uses the small stage at the Abingdon skillfully, creating interesting stage pictures. Two spirits, portrayed by Afra Hines and Carey Macaleer, weave throughout the various scenes in dances choreographed by Karen Azenberg. They depict the conflicts and sensory impressions that surround Daisy. Their dancing is accompanied by the soulful sounds of the didgeridoo, a native Australian instrument and one of the oldest known to mankind.

Daisy, due to her upbringing, is aloof and reserved, qualities Molly Powell portrays well. Several climactic moments are diluted because a sense of drama is missing in her delivery. The lines that would give those scenes an edge are passed over quickly without allowing the emotion of the moment to occur. Daisy is in control of her passions, but the actress needs to release hers.

Two powerful performances are delivered by Jerome Preston Bates and Jodie Lynn McClintock. Bates's King Billy knows the land and its people but is also aware of the inevitability of the changes being wrought by the missionary. Bates brings profundity and sweetness to Billy's simplicity. McClintock is fanatical as Annie Lock, but it is difficult to dislike her. Though she represents the destruction of the aboriginal culture, the strength in her faith lends her mission legitimacy. Her scenes with Daisy are lessons in "less is more." She does not pontificate, she simply says what she believes and it is striking.

The set designed by James F. Wolk is constructed of four irregular shaped set covered in wheat-colored cheesecloth that allow several silhouetted scenes to be effectively incorporated into the staging. Several low platforms, minimal props and other imaginative set pieces, especially the ones that represent the city of Adelaide, give the production a subtle and effective theatricality. The set is complemented by the unobtrusive lighting of David Castaneda and the costumes of Susan Scherer.

The Abingdon, which is devoted to producing works by new playwrights, is giving this New York premiere of Daisy in the Dreamtime, a vibrant and provocative production.
Written by Lynne Kaufman
Directed by Kim T. Sharp
Choreographed by Karen Azenbrg
Cast: Jerome Preston Bates, Michael Chaban, Afra Hines, Carey Macaleer, Jodie Lynn McClintock, Pamela Paul, Molly Powell, Larry Swansen
Didgeridoo Player: Matthew Goff
Scenic Design: James F. Wolk
Lighting Design: David Castaneda
Costume Design: Susan Scherer
Running time: 2 hours, (1 intermission)
Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, 312 W. 36th St. (8/9th Aves)212-206-1515
Previews: 3/7; opens: 3/12; closes 3/30
Tues-Sat at 7:30pm; Sat. at 2pm and Sun. at 3pm -- $19,
Reviewed by Macey Levin at 3/7 performance
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