Written by Crying Out Loud
Directed by Margaret Trail
Performed by Karen Hadfield, Marcia Ferguson, Jane Bayly and Maude Davey
Napier St Theatre, Melbourne, until June 22
Reviewed by Bronwen Beechey
The mythology of romantic love is one of the most enduring of our culture. Every day we are assailed with images and texts that tell us that true happiness lies in finding the perfect partner; that our lives are not complete until we find that complete union of bodies and minds, that spiritual twin who waits out there, somewhere.
Because this ideal is so pervasive, it is among the ones we find hardest to examine. As much as we consciously reject the myth, we find ourselves feeling and acting according to its dictates. For women who aspire to be independent and self-reliant, this realisation can be galling.
Promises, a play devised by Crying Out Loud, a women's theatre company that evolved from the successful a cappella group Crying in Public Places, explores themes of love, fear and obsession.
Two nameless travellers, friends on the brink of becoming lovers, embark on a journey. They encounter characters who embody different aspects of the romantic myth: a woman, rejected by her lover, who wanders around in a stained and crumpled white dress and threatens suicide in the tradition of every tragic heroine of Gothic romance; another who has been waiting 14 years for her lover to return to her; a couple of cynical, sex-obsessed "angels", and a goddess-like figure who sings torch songs and turns out to be a tired and jaded old woman who doesn't believe a word of what she sings.
Through these characters Promises raises questions of why we spend so much time and energy looking for love. Is it because of existential loneliness, a desire to return to the all-encompassing and forgiving love we (if lucky) experienced as infants? Is it because we project our own desires and fears onto others? Or is there a basic human need to seek affection and companionship?
Promises doesn't answer these questions, but it does make the point that, whether heterosexual or homosexual, our relationships can be very problematic unless we examine the effect of the romantic ideal on our own psyches.
Promises is hilarious, sad and occasionally obscure as it explores the ways in which mythologies of romance define our aspirations and relationships. It features excellent performances and singing by its cast.
The program quotes from novelist Jeanette Winterson : "The pain is when the dreams change, as they do, as they must. Suddenly the enchanted city fades and you are left alone in the windy desert." The rather abrupt ending of Promises seems to suggest that, unlike building the dream cities of romance, the building of real more difficult, scary but ultimately more rewarding process.