Pacy direction by Wesley Enoch, inventive staging and top-notch performances make first-time playwright Jane Harrison’s “Stolen” a night of potently memorable, vibrant and thought-provoking theater. Play will travel to London in July.
“Stolen” examines the recently uncovered Oz government policy, in force until the early 1970s, of separating interracial children (and others whose parents were deemed unfit) from their families and putting them into institutions or foster families or having them adopted. Piece’s strength lies in its appeal to mainstream audiences by not straying into hectoring accusations and guilt, instead managing to portray the effects of the policy with dignity and, surprisingly, some provocative humor.
Play uses nonlinear narratives to tell the story of five characters living in an institution, and to survey the wider effects of the policy on Aboriginal life. It effectively employs the five as ambassadors for a stolen generation of Aborigines whose social fabric was torn asunder.
Keeping a brisk pace, play uses re-enactments, flashbacks, photos, shadow puppetry, monologues, games and songs to show parents hiding children and children being separated from and denied contact with their families.
Set allows for variety and pace. Moveable beds become cages and jail cells, while an ever-present large filing cabinet is emblematic of misguided bureaucracy ruining lives. Such techniques allow for a rich weaving of lives and experiences, each different but similar enough to suggest disturbing patterns.
At the end, the actors step out of character to discuss their own family and childhoods. After play’s presentation of this appalling chapter of Oz’s history, this coda is incredibly moving. Miraculously, after a tale of such cruelty, play still communicates a sense of optimism and hope for reconciliation, despite Oz government refusals to apologize for the policy.
“Stolen” is an important addition to an impressive body of indigenous theater, including “The Seven Stages of Grieving,” “White Baptist Abba Fan,” “Box the Pony,” “Bidenjarreb Pinjarra,” “Black Mary,” “Ningali” “Seven,” “Fish” and “The Sunshine Club,” that emerged during and after 1997’s Olympic-funded Festival of Dreaming. This lifting of the so-called white blindfold from Oz theater has seen many innovative and inventive Aboriginal plays find eager audiences of Aussies who have been moved by these portrayals of an Oz history they knew little about.