Alice Bleby is a traveller, environmentalist and part-time writer.
Melbourne is a city of hidden treasures – tiny cafes squeezed into narrow lanes, bars hidden down dingy alleyways, galleries squirreled away above or below an apparently innocuous office building or shopfront. Looking for an (indoors) adventure on a rainy Melbourne evening, I made my intrepid way down the fairy-lit stairwell to the hidden heart of an old factory building on Flinders Lane at fortyfivedownstairs, and found a theatrical evening that surprised, challenged and ultimately delighted.
An intimate, not-for-profit theatre and gallery venue, fortyfivedownstairs has a reputation for showcasing powerful independent theatre, and the current offering, Rhonda Is In Therapy, seems to be no exception.
When I left the theatre, I felt, as I do on those rare and precious occasions when a performance has resonated deeply, as though my soul had been enlarged in some important way. After sharing the evening with Rhonda, I was capable of a little more compassion, a little more empathy for my fellow human being – as well as flush with the pleasure of a stimulating 90 minutes well spent, with plenty of conversational cud to chew after the fact.
The play centres on Rhonda, a university professor with a loving husband, a daughter, a passionate younger lover, and a terrible tragedy.
As only theatre has the power to do, Rhonda evokes for the audience a profound element in the depth of human experience. The portrayal of loss and the impacts of traumatic grief is touching and truthful – for those who have experienced something akin to Rhonda's story, it may be too close to home; but for those fortunate enough to be free of such pain, the play offers a moving insight into what such a tragedy really means to those affected.
And yet, the script is filled with light touches and gentle humour that allow the audience to enter into the play and emerge moved, but not traumatised, by what they have seen. The narrative is full of quirks and unexpected turns, in a script that engages from beginning to end and, somewhat satisfyingly, asks more questions along the way than it answers.
And from such a conveniently located hidey-hole as fortyfivedownstairs, good coffee – or good wine – can easily be found, over which to reflect on the unique rhythms of Melbourne's cultural heartbeat.
Rhonda Is In Therapy, a play by Bridgette Burton, is being presented by Hoy Polloy Theatre Productions and Baggage Productions at fortyfivedownstairs (45 Flinders Lane) until 23 September (Tue-Sun). Bookings can be made online or over the phone (03 9662 9966). If you're disorganised, take your chances at the door from half an hour before the show.