You cannot be early, you cannot be late – you must be on time. There are strict protocols for entry to this club and a code of conduct to follow if you wish to remain in 'The Association'. You must have a domestic talent, whether making jam, baking scones, reforming your household by implementing strategies to enforce etiquette, whilst being the perfect wife and quintessential hostess.
On a dark, cold, night in the dark depths of suburbia I wait outside NUMBER 64. I'm early. That's a sin in this neighbourhood, so I've politely regressed out the front gate to wait patiently on the footpath to keep company with the streetlights hidden in the trees.
NUMBER 64 is a suburban residence next to a railway line.
A car pulls up next door and a man hops out and says to me, 'Hi. What time are your people due tonight?'
'About 7.30 pm' I reply - responding to his assumption that I'm one of the actors from Girls Act Good.
I guess I am wearing a black full-length winter jacket.
It's dark, it's cold and it's quiet.
There is a porch light on, but it throws a limited beam. There are light and dark shadows cast by the trees and every single sound of motion is dense and dramatic. The sound of the single suburban car, automatic locking and the clinking of house keys.
A stranger quietly passes me, then two neighbours walking their dogs appear. A plane soars overhead, and a train clackers through.
Signs of life?
There is life in suburbia.
I'm waiting for my friend to join me.
The wait feels long.
Who will be next to arrive?
I now realise the neighbour at NUMBER 63 is the landlord of NUMBER 64. He warns me that the driveway is a no standing zone and to make sure that 'my people' don't park there.
I must look like a concierge or at least a stage manager.
An arty couple turns up and says hello. I watch them fumble through their phone to check the number of house on their ticket and hear them whispering '63?' 'No '64'; 'This is 64'.
'Hi. Are you here for the play?' I said.
'Um, yeah' they reply.
I tell them of my faux pas turning up early and knocking on the door at 7:00 pm. They laugh nervously and smile. Another train goes by and then a bicycle. I hear more car doors opening.
'You two have been to a meeting before' a lady cloaked in a black cape appears and lights up a cigarette.
Audrey (Lisa Dallinger) turns to them and says, 'You know the drill - down the lane and out the back'. She then turns to me and says, 'Did you bring jam?'.
'No I didn't' I reply, and fumble for an excuse – that my baking wasn't up to scratch. Audrey nods to acknowledge our mutual inner envy of Stepford wives who bake so well.
She makes a phone call.
'…but I've got my meeting…and we can talk about it later. I can't miss another meeting'.
Suddenly my friend appears and a small gaggle of others and we head down the lane and wait out the back of this very long house. It's cold and we have full view through the kitchen window of some black caped women. Some very tall women, and some very short.
We all smell baked goods.
Eventually, the women come out and give each 'member' a badge to put on, except for the girl in the yellow dress – Joanne (Kelley Kerr Young). Audrey has recruited her, and some strange rituals commence. As we enter the house, we greet each other with 'Strength in Unity' like a ritual chant.
We enter the beautiful warm Art Deco room with a table full of scones, lamingtons and coloured teapots – it's warm, it smells of a baking, and the welcome is polite, and a little bit stuffy, if not suspicious.
We are taken down the hallway to another room and we pass by boxes of baby clothes, books and sanitary items obviously collected for charity. There are pictures on the wall, some which look like they've been there for over 100 years, and then some are more diagrammatic, almost clinical.
We are read the rules in the brown room, as Nancy (Perri Cummings) blindfolds Audrey to test the 'best jam'. Phyllis (Emily Joy) wins the award for the best jam – cumquat – laced with sedatives. She has won consecutively for the last six months.
We are enclosed in the room and the meeting begins. Audrey is scolded for swearing, and Phyllis tells of her achievements in reforming her households' behaviour. Nancy gives us an overview of historical therapies – specifically phrenology – and each member is given a diagram of the male brain showing designated areas to be stimulated to achieve an appropriate response. Audrey then challenges Joanne about her marriage, revealing recordings of interviews and other surveillance. There's talk of scones laced with aphrodisiacs for husbands and jams with sedatives for wives. Betty (Jennifer Monk) politely changes the subject.
Under the veneer of the 'Suburban Wives Association' lies a peculiarity – a secret that all the members know, but never utter. There's discussion about how the swear jar is a successful way of raising money for women receiving services from the McAuley Community Services for Women and references to the 'care boxes' we saw in the hallway.
We then take a 'scone break' and head out to the kitchen to try Phyllis cumquat or Nancy's strawberry jam. There's also carrot and dip, but not a cup of tea in sight. Strange.
A young pregnant girl named Sylvie (Hannah Davies) in denim shorts appears and asks Joanne if she is a virgin. She mentions a lab, sacrifice and the McCauley services.
We then head back to the brown room to continue the meeting, with a call for blood donations of rare blood types. Of course, the subject of Joanne's husband arises – and then we are ushered to a bedroom to where the secret really lies. But…I can't tell you the rest… you really must go and experience this show!
Our meeting is suddenly interrupted by the shouting of Ruthanne (Lee McClenaghan) a rogue member wearing a black satin negligee pursued by her husband in a psychotic state from aphrodisiac infused scones.
Nancy dons her safety vest and escorts the membership out of the house in a methodical evacuation, whilst the episode continues to escalate. She invites us back to next month's meeting and to enter the 'Most Exotic Herb From Your Garden' competition.
There are some experiences in life you cannot explain - you simply have to be there. The Association is one of those experiences. So, get yourself a ticket quickly, numbers are limited and see this show and the house!
It's worth the Uber trip!
Girls Act Good (GAG) is an all female ensemble of actors, writers, directors, producers and designers based in Melbourne. The focus of GAG is providing creative opportunities to women and giving a voice to people and their stories that normally go unheard and unnoticed. Projects for women by women.