The Lockdown Monologues prove that art can be immediately responsive to momentous social change. The artists behind these snapshots of life during the crisis have had only weeks to prepare them, though with what has happened in the interval, more instalments may be required to keep pace with unfolding history.
Three voices emerge in the monologues’ final chapter: an opera singer diagnosed with COVID-19, an international student in Melbourne and an Indigenous woman heading to country.
The sickened diva delivers a glib take on art as religion: the others are more dramatically interesting, partly because they distil a reckoning with racism, centuries in the making, that the pressure of the pandemic has brought to the surface.
In Jean Tong’s At Your Own Peril, directed by Ra Chapman and performed by Bernard Sam, an international student counsels an overseas friend wanting to study in Australia. He paints a nuanced picture but does not skimp on how fear of contagion has unleashed latent racism: ironically, the Black Lives Matter rally is the one place the speaker feels safe wearing a mask.
Millennia in the making, of course, is First Nations culture, and Jane Harrison’s What Matters, performed with great warmth by Lisa Maza, feels the most grounded and enduring of the lot.
With her 10-year-old son, a single mother heads to country, to a community blind to class or colour, where all that matters is people and connection to the land. The idyll is cut short when she returns to work in the city to find the horror of George Floyd’s killing and the eruption of worldwide protests.
She agonises over whether to participate in Melbourne’s BLM rally — a real-life moral dilemma during the pandemic — and resolves to attend safely with a son whose future she is willing to die for, finding hope and solidarity in direct action.