Mercury (Hobart)

Aussie gives hot topic her best shot

A play written by an Australian tackles parenting, love and guns in the US, writes Penny McLeod


ACCLAIMED Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith was flummoxed when, in 2016, she was asked to write a play about America and guns.

“I said ‘I’m Australian and we don’t have guns, I’m not the right person for the project’,” says Murray-Smith, who was living in America at the time and was discussing ideas for a new play with the artistic director of the Milwaukee Rep Theatre.

The next day she saw a one-man show in a tiny theatre that inspired her to think differentl­y about the topic.

“It was so utterly mesmerisin­g and spinechill­ing. I thought ‘What if you can contract the whole topic of guns in America into one man’s voice’,” Murray-Smith says.

“How could you tell a story that told you something about the complexity, politics and human dimension of the issue?

“I began to think ‘How can I tell a story that is a very hot political issue in a way that doesn’t alert the audience to my prejudices? How could I tell a very poignant story, that is ultimately an anti-guns story, in a way that the audience doesn’t twig what my political sensibilit­y is until the end?’”

The result is American Song, Murray-Smith’s critically acclaimed one-man production, which was commission­ed in America and first produced there in 2016 to great acclaim. The Red Stitch show will be performed in Australia for only the second time at the Theatre Royal in Hobart this month as part of a limited season, followed by a national tour.

It tells the story of Andy — played by Joe Petruzzi — as he heads off to work to give the biggest presentati­on of his career, wishing his teenage son Robbie goodbye. Eight hours later, everything has changed.

Murray-Smith says the play is an intimate exploratio­n of parenting, love and the question: What could I have done differentl­y?

“You need an actor who can take the audience into a very comfortabl­e, safe place so he can then take them into an ideologica­lly and emotionall­y dangerous place,” says Murray-Smith, who believes the play is relevant to all audiences. “As much as the play is apparently about guns, it is much more a play about parenting. You can do the best by your children, but you ultimately cannot control them.” American Song will be performed at the Theatre Royal, Hobart, on February 21 and 22 at 7.30pm. Tickets are available at theatreroy­

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