One woman and her car

August 14, 1996

Car Maintenance, Explosives and Love
Written and performed by Donna Jackson
Directed by Andrea Lemon
Lonsdale Street Power Station, Melbourne
Tues-Sat 7pm, Sun 5 pm, until August 25
Reviewed by Bronwen Beechey

The connection between the different elements of the title may not be immediately obvious, but according to Donna Jackson, they definitely are there. Cars, like relationships, need to be cared for and maintained if they are not to break down. Love can start off like an explosion and often blows up in your face later on.

Donna Jackson is the founder and director of the Women's Circus, which performed at the Beijing Women's Conference last year and lead singer of the Sharons, Melbourne's only all-woman '70s glam-rock band. Car Maintenance, Explosives and Love (CMXL for short) gives Jackson the opportunity to demonstrate her skills in acrobatics, rope-climbing and pyrotechnics, combined with a narrative that is both thought-provoking and comic.

CMXL is performed in the former Lonsdale Street electricity substation, and the grungy industrial surroundings lend themselves well to the play, set in a garage. As Jackson works on rebuilding her car, she describes her fascination with big, fast cars, tells stories of her working-class family upbringing (both her parents drove trucks, her sister is married to "a long-distance truck driver and Elvis impersonator", and her grandmother was an aircraft mechanic in World War II), and relates her experience as the only female in the explosives course at Box Hill TAFE.

Interspersed with this is the progress of a doomed relationship between Jackson and a middle-class academic feminist (the beginning of the end comes when the lover replaces her EJ Holden with a Ford Laser). Cars, Jackson concludes, are easier to deal with than people; and some relationships are like a car that keeps breaking down. At what point do you decide to "blow it up"?

Jackson claims that the initial inspiration for the script came from a newspaper article about Marion Sparg, a white South African who blew up police stations in the 1980s in protest at apartheid. Jackson makes some comparison between Sparg's willingness to take direct action and her lover's supposedly revolutionary friends who "sit around drinking red wine and talking shit".

To my mind, this aspect of CMXL didn't really work, not only because of the rather clichéd portrayal of all political activists as middle-class wankers, but also because it sat awkwardly with the play's emphasis on the politics of relationships.

CMXL suffers a little from trying to pack a few too many ideas into a short piece, but it is well worth seeing for Jackson's energy, passion and humour.