It would be the worst kind of lie to pretend that I could be neutral about The Motion of Light in Water, which is currently showing as apart of La Boite’s Indie Program in Brisbane until 21 November. This is not a work that fosters neutrality.
Energetic, thought-provoking and deliciously licked in camp, this is a sci-fi, queer, time-travel, love story that traverses linguistics, poetry, metaphysics, race politics, gender and sexuality with ambition and verve.
As a character less interesting than those featured in this play once said, “you had me at hello”.
We have previously talked about the quality of a review, a written text that (theoretically) seeks to stand outside or above the work in neutrality, and somehow assess that art or experience as having value or worth. This is not one of those.
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge my conflict of interest – I have recently been an Artist in Residence at La Boite theatre, I know one of the performers and consider her a friend and small communities of practice often preclude open and robust critique. Who wants to encounter the professional and interpersonal risk of saying, “what was that about, really?” or “what were you thinking when you …?” But those professional nuances aside, I know I have to acknowledge my person and my situated reality, to honestly share of the experience of The Motion of Light in Water and its impact on me through my subjective lens – if only to participate in the work’s desire to
articulate the challenges of human empathy, as we traverse the “I” and the “you” and the “we”. I’ve also had a hard week, and I went to see the work with a friend whose grandfather was a registered alien in Australia’s not-so-distant history. We’re invested in questions of race, sexuality, language AND we want to see some lurid lucidity.
The Motion of Light in Water does not disappoint. This Elbow Room production grapples with the life of American writer, Samuel R. Delany and his breakout Nebula Award-winning galactic epic Babel 17, juxtaposing the narratives of the black, gay, sci-fi writer, Delany, and his (eventual) wife, the poet, Marilyn Hacker, from a bus ride from New York to Michigan in the 60s to the lurid spandex-ery of centuries forward where Rydra Wong (multilingual genius space captain on a mission to save the galaxy) and her triumvirate of navigators “wrestle” each other, the ship, impending doom, a somewhat cryptic narrator called Jewel, and a language that is as viral as Burroughs could have wished.
The story is a little confusing in this redux, but the production jumps between settings, times and frames of reality with glampy delight and warmth, a genuine affection for its characters and the moralities they stretch against, and it held me (and my bladder) for the entire 2 hours. As a queer person of colour with a brain-on for language play, poetry and lycra, I highly recommend it. I left with a hunger for politics with my pulp and an energy to read Marilyn Hacker’s poetry (sadly, a little sidelined in the show itself), and wished that a certain liberal Senator could see just how much acidic thinking, commitment and energy six or so performers and their countless collaborators could bring to the stage. I suggest you buckle up and prepare for hyperspace.
The Motion of Light in Water runs until Saturday 21 Nov as a part of: La Boite Indie – 14 Oct – 5 Dec
Directed by Marcel Dorney Sound Design & Composer THE SWEATS Production Designer Matthew Adey Costume Designer Zoë Rouse AV Designer Andre Vanderwert Lighting Design Kris Chainey Producer Dean Cartmel Starring Ray Chong-Nee, Tom Dent, Ryan Forbes, Olivia Monticciolo, Ngoc Phan and Emily Tomlins