How often in your life have you felt like you were an unskilled juggler, attempting to keep dozens of balls in the air only to find them scattered around your feet? Imagine having these same balls fired at you with great ferocity. Do you think you would stand a better chance of catching them? Such is the analogy used in The Button Event, a one-hander played with a depth of emotion that only someone who has experienced the dramatised events can muster.
Todd MacDonald is both deviser and performer in this drama. He is onstage attempting, with little success, to throw a tennis ball into a drum, while the audience drifts in – an analogy for persistence in the face of life's trials and tribulations. The play begins with a scholarly lecture on the workings of the brain and moves into a joyful relaxed mode as he recounts his meeting with his wife, marriage and arrival of twin daughters. It then descends into a hectic free-for-all as the serious condition one of his daughters is afflicted with affects the lives of her family, particularly from a father's point of view.
When we are presented with a recounting of a real life drama on television, it is often a comfort to have the aftermath of someone's life story presented onscreen before the credits, sometimes to our relief and joy, at others, to our dismay. The final scene of The Button Event has a calm father gently washing his daughter's hair after life changing surgery. I wanted to know more about how this family continues to juggle the demands of one member having a severe disability, but this scene gave me hope that all was going as well as could be expected because of a close-knit family and an excellent support team.
The fluorescent tennis balls are among the supporting cast in this play, along with a ladder and assorted boxes which are built into a teetering tower which one expects to tumble at any moment, as a life can do under stress. The balls play the neurons in the brain as well as the cloak of Richard III as he paces the stage proclaiming his deformity. Todd does not want his daughter to be the butt of playground bullying because of her differences.
There is a frenetic energy on display as Todd tries to carry on a "normal" life including house renovation and employment while coping with the demands of his daughter. Despite it being the end of the 'flu season, the audience was stunned into silence as they were drawn into an emotional maelstrom.
Tuberous sclerosis can result in all sorts of intellectual, emotional and physical disabilities. As a special educator, I witnessed this first hand and watched the gradual breaking down of a family which lacked the strengths of the MacDonald/McIntoshes. When Todd railed against the support group, mention was made of possible reasons for the condition such as drug taking during pregnancy. Was this a backlash of guilt feelings for the parents' own dabbling with drugs in their youth? My student's father blamed his exposure to chemicals during the Vietnam War for her condition. Much was made of the fact that a baby's physical and mental makeup was determined in those early days of pregnancy.
"The Button Event" is unique in its story, casting and design. It is a play not to be missed during the Brisbane Festival.