The Woman In His Mind finds herself in the confines of a space that is confused, angry and passionate. The bed in the motel room is unkempt and a pair of woman’s shoes lay furiously apart; a condom hangs limply from a drawer, its torn Durex wrapping lies wasted on the floor.
Christine Lambrianidis’ new play explores the crisis of cultural identity that second-generation Greek migrants suffer in their birth country of Australia. It examines their struggles to reconcile conflicts between traditions and modernity, East and West, old and new, cultural heritage and liberal values.
John and Katharina are a divorced couple, both of whom are of Greek heritage. He is a brick-and-mortar developer who values hard work and familial relationships while she is a published writer who has chosen to pursue her dreams and her individuality at the expense of wealth and her community’s approval. They meet for a one-night assignation in a shabby motel room in an act that defies native customs and scandalises ethnic character.
As audacious as they are original, these imaginings by the talented playwright turn out to be an astonishing masterstroke. By setting the duo up in an unlikely arrangement, she unshackles them from traditional constraints that grip married couples and installs them instead on a platform where absurdities can be exposed and excoriated.
It would have been easy to render the scenes sordid — even vile — but, to his credit, Mark Pritchard directs his material with subtlety and taste: John’s zipping up of his fly, for example, marks the decisive end of a sexual romp just as Katharina’s shedding of her nurse’s wig takes us from suggestions of lewd acts in bedroom role-playing back to grinding reality.
With taut and uncompromising lines, the play teeters perilously close to character assassination. Here, the Greek man is portrayed as arrogant and old-fashioned, one who customarily views the woman as needy of support and inferior in any society.
Despite being inordinately possessive of the woman who becomes his wife, he oddly deprives her of his sexual affection. And in denying her any form of physical admiration, the Greek husband sees the wife as little more than a well-mannered cook and housekeeper, a problem-solver — even one akin to his own mother.
Lambrianidis’ provocative play is exquisitely delivered by the riveting performance of James Deeth and Kate Gregory. Deeth’s John captures both the machismo of his father’s son and the vulnerability of the contemporary Greek-Australian confounded by the dilemma of cultural contradictions. Gregory’s Katharina is equally fine. With dignity and confidence, she scoffs at what she sees as John’s hypocrisy and hopelessness in dealing with situations and confronting reality.
Admittedly, some references do seem somewhat contrived and Lambrianidis’ lack of enthusiasm for narrative plot makes it feel half digested. Nevertheless, it is a heartbreaking portrait in which two people who clearly still love and care for each other are forced apart by divergent, if opposing, cultural drafts.
Brendan O’Connell’s excellent production is effectively lit by Kris Chainey and the intriguing set is cleverly designed by Chloe Greaves whose confused, angry and passionate space is perhaps emblematic of the Greek-Australian man as it too does The Woman In His Mind.