The most frustrating aspect to a meaningful show that tackles important social issues is that, for the most part, it preaches to the already-converted, and those who need to hear an opposing view, steer clear of anything challenging their own beliefs.
Both left and right are equally guilty yet there’s never been a more important time in recent history for people to open their minds and seriously consider the issues affecting our society. You may come out changed or you may not, but at least you had the sense to try to balance your views.
Mina Mokhtarani’s Pale Face Cold Blood is one such show that suffers badly from the need to reach the right audience. It’s a powerful piece about treating humans as less than animals, of stripping the human rights away from the most vulnerable, and of the people who relish doing it.
She portrays Zara, an Iranian immigrant and translator who is now suffering post-traumatic stress after witnessing the violent and degrading treatment that asylum seekers receive in Australia’s off-shore detention centres like those on Manus Island. Having witnessed the verbal and emotional abuse of clients from the staff, threats and beatings against detainees, and the sub-standard living and medical conditions, Zara is blacklisted for having spoken up. The government’s media blackout on reporting most incidents and their active attempts to avoid inspection in the camps, has left Zara with few to turn to, and even fewer willing to believe what goes on.
Surprisingly, the show fails to offer any hope for Zara by acknowledging the increasing number of former real-life staff now beginning to speak out about these camps which, in turn, could offer Zara some support and closure. Instead, our heroine remains caught in her cycle of haunting memories and anger.
Mokhtarani is a fine actor but it’s her fitness level that excels in this show. She skips, boxes, lifts weights and does other exercises non-stop for the duration of the play. Often distracting and never varying in pace, the presentation of the piece quickly becomes flat and uninteresting, while ironically serving its purpose as a distraction from the horrific images Zara herself is trying to escape.
The lines are delivered slowly with long pauses and heavy panting, much of their impact lost by the pace and unrelated action. Even so, what is revealed is a horrible current and recent history of Australian cruelty that conservative media has failed to significantly report on despite a growing body of evidence.
As a nation, we remain in the dark, just as this play will until it finds a way to reach those who need to see it. The first step in that process however, may be to rethink the presentation to make it more accessible and interesting.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 5: 3
Venue: Tuxedo Cat – Mayall Room, East Village, 54 Hyde St, Adelaide
Season: 16-22 February 2015
Duration: 50 minutes
Bookings: Book through FringeTix online or at a FringeTix box office (booking fees apply)