The Age interviews Dan Giovannoni – see the article in its original context here.
PLAYWRIGHT Dan Giovannoni is suspicious of the tolerance afforded minorities in contemporary Australia, even though he is a member of generation Y that he acknowledges has little direct experience of prejudice.
”I could live my whole life quite happily in a lefty bubble having a great time with friends and family,” he says.
Giovannoni shared in last year’s fringe festival award for best emerging writer for the comedy Cut Snake and won the the Malcolm Robertson Prize for his new play, Two by Two, which is at fortyfivedownstairs next month.
It is a critique of the norms of middle Australia in an allegory based on Noah’s Ark, set in a cataclysmic near future after a devastating plague and mass flooding brought on by torrential rain.
Survivors are being recruited to board a ship to safety but the play’s three characters have been left behind. They are a married gay couple played by Gary Abrahams and Paul Blenheim, and an ill single woman played by Zahra Newman.
”They are not wanted on the boat and have been told to wait behind to die,” Giovannoni says. ”Instead, they decide to fight society’s rejection.”
A possible key to their salvation is a baby found in the floodwaters because families are accepted on the ship. The three wrestle over who will care for it.
”People are always talking about the worth of different people and the role they play in society,” Giovannoni says. ”But this makes their worth explicit, even if it is in an allegory.”
The couple have been happy and not faced any great discrimination.
”But the limits imposed for the rescue mean it makes no sense to take a gay couple on board,” he says. ”But is the ability to have babies all that society needs? What happens to the gays, the sick and black people and anyone else who doesn’t fit into this utilitarian vision for the future?”
He says the play is about a relationship and how the love that binds it is tested by the external situation. ”It’s about the struggle to believe in your own love when the rest of the world doesn’t.”
Giovannoni graduated from Melbourne University’s creative arts course with the play’s director, Stephen Nicolazzo, and attended the one-year graduates course in playwrighting at Sydney’s National Institute of Dramatic Art in 2010.
”That’s when I became serious about my writing,” he says. He is writer in residence at Red Stitch Actors Theatre and is taking Cut Snake and a new show to Sydney this year. He also hopes to have another work in the Next Wave Festival.
His doubts about the role of minorities in society were fuelled during rehearsals for Two by Two by the outcry caused by opposition frontbencher Teresa Gambaro’s call for migrants to be taught how to use deodorant.
”What are we supposed to do – make up a welcome-to-Australia pack with a stick of under-arm? I don’t understand what benefit such statements bring to anybody except to contribute to passive racism.”
Newman migrated to Queensland from Jamaica as a teenager and attended the Victorian College of the Arts drama course in 2006. She agrees minorities are widely accepted now but says there are still concerns that prejudice persists ”deep down”.
”But the play is also about a relationship and what happens to two people during a global crisis,” she says. ”It’s not about a specifically gay relationship – the arguments and conflicts could be between any couple.”
Newman has been extraordinarily busy since graduating from VCA four years ago and earning her first main-stage role in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Joanna Murray-Smith’s Rockabye in 2009, directed by Simon Phillips.
She was cast in two MTC shows last year, the one-woman show Random and the American ensemble hit Clybourne Park – impressive for a recent graduate.
”It was a challenging year,” she says. ”Performing alone on stage was a milestone and Clybourne Park was one of the best experiences I’ve had – it was freakishly good.”
The ”massive difference” between main-stage and independent work is the level of financial support. ”The strength of commitment is comparable because the desire to make the art is just as strong,” Newman says.
She will work with Phillips again when rehearsals start in Sydney for the new musical, An Officer & a Gentleman, that opens in May and transfers to Melbourne in September. She plays one of the cadets.
”I have never done a show that runs for months and months,” she says. ”I expect to learn a lot because it will involve different techniques from drama, which I have most experience in.”
For more information about Two by Two, see here.