“The play puts five women on stage and what is fascinating to me is that these characters cover three generations”, says Anna McGrath. McGrath takes a break from the rehearsal room to talk to the Guide about directing AMERICAN BEAUTY SHOP, a play by three-time Kilroy Honourable Mention playwright, Dana Lynn Formby.
Aged 81-17, the women populate a beauty shop which has moved to Sue’s basement. The credit squeeze and the arrival of a supermarket giant have forced the ‘Sugar Shack’ out of its long-time Main Street premises in the dusty, western town of Cortez, Colorado. Sue has big dreams and aspirations for the basement. And for her daughter, Judy who might just have a shot at getting out.
McGrath sees the play as giving differing perspectives of the American Dream. “Each of the characters has their own point of view on what that dream might be and that’s relatable to audiences everywhere. There’s an interesting dichotomy in the play. One of the characters is all about striving and escaping the hardship of how she has experienced childhood and that is contrasted with another character who is very much proud of where she comes from and doesn’t understand what she sees as disregarding your heritage.”
“There are so many interesting aspects to this play!” enthuses McGrath as she gives another thematic example. Meg is an African American woman in a town with few people who look different. “She gives an insight into discrimination she can experience just because of the way she looks.”
Charmaine Bingwa who has just come from a sold out season of ‘Doubt’ plays Meg in a stellar ensemble of actors. Cait Burley, Amanda Stephens Lee, Janine Watson plus the redoubtable Jill McKay back on the boards. “Each of them is so talented individually and it is thrilling to see the magic happen between them in the room as we work through this material.”
“We are really having a LOT of fun but we all feel the responsibility to honour these characters.”
McGrath looks to the breadth of female voices in this play and what we can learn from the stories… “It’s about what has changed and what remains the same for my grandmother, my mother and me and now my niece.” The playwright, too, had experiences close to home with a mother and grandmother in the Beauty Shop business.
“Dana is particularly interested in blue collar women’s stories,” says McGrath and she and the playwright are in constant contact across the Pacific as this, its Australian Premiere, takes shape.
“Though the play has some highly comic moments, it’s really actually a tragedy in its way. A beautiful play, I feel, in the way it can take audiences to great extremes in terms of the emotional scale. You can be laughing yourself silly at a number of the characters and their interactions but at the same time be really touched by the hardship they are going through and the awful circumstances they are up against.”
AMERICAN BEAUTY SHOP will play at Kings Cross Theatre 25 Aug to 16 Sept. Bookings http://www.kingsxtheatre.com/american-beauty-shop