The hysterical tone of “Nailed,” a new play by Caleb Lewis that digs into the thorny history of race relations between black and white Australia, really gets cranking in the second act. Until then, leads Ursula Yovich and Tim Draxl make the most of a script that never quite decides if it is rooted in fact or fantasy.
Action takes place in 1950s regional Australia. May (Yovich) is a 14-year-old aboriginal girl being cared for by nuns when she gets pregnant. Upon hearing the news, her young white lover Joe (Draxl) abandons her. He returns near the end of the pregnancy to snatch her at gunpoint. She goes willingly, fearing the nuns intend to adopt out her baby.
Joe and May are on the run when they take shelter in the barn of Joe’s former employer (Wayne Pygram). There it becomes apparent Joe has promised May’s baby to the man and his wife, Dolly (Annie Byron). The now-elderly couple have become estranged over their grief for a stillborn son and their subsequent inability to conceive.
This is where Lewis’ script descends into a farce that fails to advance the narrative. His expose, through Dolly, of motherhood lost, lacks insight. The plight of young female aboriginals at that time is not adequately explored, nor is the stigma surrounding interracial couplings.
In fact very little is resolved in a format that comes to rely too heavily on open-ended soliloquies.
“Nailed” came to life during a mentorship with Nick Enright and was developed further as part of Griffin’s year-long playwright’s residency, which this year also produced Tommy Murphy’s commendable “Strangers in Between.”
Company topper David Berthold directed both, which just goes to show what a lottery theater can be.