Coloured Aliens is slated for production at La Mama theatre in April 2017 as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. These excerpts are from the script-in-development.
‘At the present time in Sydney, we have whole streets which are practically given up to the businesses conducted by Chinese, Syrians, and other coloured aliens, and one cannot go today into more than five towns of any importance in the country districts of New South Wales without finding two, three, or perhaps half-a-dozen coloured storekeepers apparently doing a thriving business’ – John Watson 1901.
Martial arts Gi’s (martial arts ‘kimonos’) hang in various places.
MAI is sitting with a laptop, wearing a grey velour tracksuit. She pivots between two characters, Mrs Ly and a Male Customer.
MAI as MRS LY: A little more.
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: No.
MAI as MRS LY: You have a little bit more.
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: I can’t.
MAI as MRS LY: Why, you don’t like?
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: I’m full, I really am.
MAI as MRS LY: Who you think you talk to?
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: Ms Ly, you are the most famous pho cook this side of/
MAI as MRS LY: My broth goes back twen-ty years!
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: What do you mean twenty years?
MAI as MRS LY: Ha! I no tell secret to silly man.
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: But I’ve come here, devotedly, over the past 6 months.
MAI: No, too French Romance.
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: But I’ve supped here for 6 months. (Tries again) But I’ve eaten here 6 months!
MAI as MRS LY: You order every dish, every combination. Sometimes two fire-truck bowls.
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: Welldone, medium, raw, brisket, tendon, tripe, chicken. Pho no-pilot.
MAI as MRS LY: So why you not eat like usual? (Tries again) Why you not eat today?
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: You’ve fed me so well Mrs Ly. That’s all.
MAI as MRS LY: You lie.
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: I no lie. I mean, I’m not lying, Mrs Ly.
MAI as MRS LY: You fake number 1 customer.
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: No! I number one customer.
MAI as MRS LY: Number 10 customer, not number 1!
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: Number 1. Number 1.
MAI as MRS LY: Maybe Number 100. Quiet! Always coming here, ordering so much, eat everything.
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: Your broth is so sweet, just like you. Is it the star anise or the grilled, fresh ginger?
MAI as MRS LY: Star anise. Maybe. Fried ginger...maybe. Maybe some sugar. Maybe. Why you talk? Why you no eat?
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: I’ve had so much already Mrs Ly.
MAI as MRS LY: When you ask ingredient, you look like...(recognises) son of my competitors!
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: Who’s that? My father is overseas. My mother is interstate. I am alone.
MAI as MRS LY: Why are you here? Tell me now!
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: No, no. No idea.
MAI as MRS LY: So liar. You try to steal my customers?
MAI: No, no, she wouldn’t say that. She’d say:
MAI as MRS LY: Không sao đâu! Tao sẽ trị mầy (No worries! I’m going to teach you). You take my customer?
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: Please Mrs Ly - you’re getting this wrong. (Tries a more sinister version) Our shop is new and big, and has more lights. They like to come to my restaurant. My restaurant! Mine. My!
MAI as MRS LY: (Shoves food into his mouth. They struggle). Who you work for?
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: I’m not working for anyone.
MAI as MRS LY: You learn cooking phở? You steal recipe?
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: What the pho, I’m self-taught.
MAI as MRS LY: So arrogant!
MAI as MALE CUSTOMER: And I’m going to beat your god pho-saken little shop.
Lights up. MAI plays different ‘accents’ aloud using her laptop.
MAI: As an Asian-Australian playwright ...
VEENA (INDIAN) COMPUTER VOICE: I explore the horror of displacement...
EWA (POLISH) COMPUTER VOICE: Using the postcolonial gothic...
TING TING (MANDARIN CHINESE) COMPUTER VOICE: My play is an interdisciplinary work...
FIONA (SCOTTISH) COMPUTER VOICE: ...which brings together different audiences to a shared...
PETRA (GERMAN) COMPUTER VOICE: ...simultaneous experience. Each linguistic group understands different...
KAREN (AUSTRALIAN) COMPUTER VOICE: ...aspects of the live performance, as I investigate my hyphenated,
AUDREY (FRENCH) COMPUTER VOICE: transcultural...
SATU (FINNISH) COMPUTER VOICE: translingual....
CARMIT (HEBREW) COMPUTER VOICE: de-territorialised
MOIRA (IRISH) COMPUTER VOICE: identity.
YUNA (KOREAN) COMPUTER VOICE: "One of the tasks of a migrant is to move from a sense of alienation in the new country...
NIKOS (GREEK) COMPUTER VOICE: ...to a sense of being comfortable with that alienation."
KEVIN: The velour koala.
MAI: Has done 200 words today.
KEVIN: Good words I hope?
MAI: Who knows. Listen...
She selects some text and plays him a computer generated voice.
AUDREY (FRENCH) COMPUTER VOICE: The postcolonial gothique genre...
KEVIN: Ooooh la la!
MOIRA (IRISH) COMPUTER VOICE: ...Allows me to present Vietnamese beef noodle soup,
PETRA (GERMAN) COMPUTER VOICE:...Pho...
MOIRA (IRISH) COMPUTER VOICE: ...as a metaphor for the diaspora.
MAI: I like Irish Moira - seems to go well with my convoluted sentences.
KEVIN: Makes me want to stab myself.
MAI: You can talk Kevin O’Sullivan from Tipperary.
KEVIN: That was six generations ago.
MAI: Surely the music of the language must have stayed with you...
KEVIN: Nope. Just the riffing, like the Vietnamese...
MAI: Here we go...
KEVIN: Chet me! (Pause) Chet toi, chet cho, chet meo, chet ga, chet...(runs out of Vietnamese words that he knows).
KEVIN: Ah yes, chet khi (Dead monkey). Chet bo (Dead cow), Chet ca (Dead fish).
MAI: Anyone else dead?
KEVIN: Chet toi. (Gestures stabbing himself in ritual Sepukku. Pause) How come I only know bad words in Vietnamese?
MAI: They’re the only words you wanted to learn.
MAI continues working on her laptop.
KEVIN: What are we going to have for lunch?
MAI: I don’t know, what’s in the fridge?
KEVIN: I don’t have time to cook.
MAI: Are you training today?
KEVIN: I have to be there for the guys.
Silence. MAI keeps working.
KEVIN: It’s nearly lunch time.
MAI: You eat, I’m not hungry yet.
KEVIN: I’m not eating without you.
MAI: I’m working. I never said I was going to eat with you.
Pause. KEVIN finds some Asian crackers/nori seaweed sheets and starts eating these. They disappear quickly.
KEVIN: What will you eat later?
MAI: (Trying to remain focused) I don’t know.
KEVIN: We need to buy food...
MAI: There’s heaps of food in the fridge.
MAI: I bought it yesterday!
MAI: There’s carrots and tempeh.
KEVIN: Mai, this is not food.
MAI: Just boil some rice and wash a few veggies.
KEVIN: Is there any meat?
MAI: I didn’t buy any.
KEVIN: Where’s the cheese? And the ham? Where’s the chicken? (Silence) I’m so hungry! I’m going to bite you!
MAI laughs at him. KEVIN takes a protein shake from the fridge; the shakes it, threatening to splatter the milk and protein everywhere. Finally, he drinks it.
MAI: When are you going?
KEVIN: I’m going to the gym at one. Ju-jitsu at four. Then night shift.
KEVIN takes one of the clean martial arts Gi’s hanging in the space and shoves it in his bag. An email arrives. MAI quickly reads it.
MAI: Fuck! I’m so sick of Asian actors.
KEVIN: (Ironic) They just want to play stereotyped roles?
MAI: Viet Cong.
MAI: Fu Manchu.
KEVIN: Ming the Merciless.
MAI: Boat person.
KEVIN: Drug peddler.
MAI: People smuggler.
KEVIN: Yellow Peril.
MAI: Sexy monk, Tripitaka.
KEVIN: (In character) The Nature of Monkey is irrepressible...
MAI: No. They’re so hard to find. There’s so few of them. And the good ones get poached!
KEVIN: What’s happened?
MAI: He’s been offered a role in a mini series...playing a drug addict in an Indonesian prison. And now he wants to pull out of my play!
KEVIN: Find someone else.
MAI: It’s a week away! I can’t believe it! (Continues reading the email) "It is really the casting agent who’s pressuring me - She even warned me: ‘You are making a terrible mistake! You silly, silly boy! Do you know how important this film Director is?’"
KEVIN: Okay Mai, how can I help? Who do I have to give a talking to?
MAI: ...I’ve been working on this play for five years! And now she wants to poach my actor a week before opening.
KEVIN: (Trying to lighten things up) I could play the Pho customer being force-fed by Mrs Ly. With enough make-up and some sticky tape.
MAI: (Types out her reply)...This puts me in an impossible position, and will cause the play to be canceled. (Presses send).
MAI reads out the Email response: Yeah I’m really sorry about that.
MAI: You know the theatre world is very small, and based on reputations and long memories...
MAI reads out the Email response: It’s nothing personal, film offers more exposure.
MAI: Really? Doesn’t matter if it’s bad exposure? (Types) Don’t forget that I know your Aunty Zee, so if you don’t want her to know about your Facebook photos, then don’t cross me! (Presses send).
They wait. New email arrives.
MAI: He’s foregoing the tiny role as a nondescript drug mule in an Asian country with four lines.
They both cheer!
KEVIN: There’s heaps of white actors. Just write plays with white people in them.
MAI: For white people?
KEVIN: For the audience...you know, people who pay money to see theatre...
MAI: What about the kid in woop-woop who’s never seen an Asian person before?
KEVIN: Why does he need to?
KEVIN: See an Asian person.
MAI: Ever? Or onstage?
KEVIN: Are you going to keep writing about being Vietnamese?
MAI: Yeah, I am, because in case you haven’t noticed, I am Vietnamese?
KEVIN: You’ve lived here since you were six!
MAI: I’ve lived as a ‘generic Asian person’ since I was six!
KEVIN: How Vietnamese are you now?
MAI: It’s hard to say what Vietnamese even is...It’s changed so much.
KEVIN: How about writing something that’ll get bums on seats.
MAI: ‘Asian’ doesn’t really exist in Asia. You’re either Thai or Cambodian or Hong Kong Chinese...
KEVIN: How about drug-taking in football?
MAI: I don’t follow the footy.
KEVIN: Being abused by your parents for getting 98% on your tests.
MAI: Um, I was getting abused by my classmates for getting 98% on tests. I had to pretend to be bad at maths, okay?
KEVIN: And now it’s true.
MAI: Oh dear.
KEVIN: Fly-in Fly-out workers during the mining boom? Destruction of the Great Barrier Reef? (Silence). What can you write about?
MAI: I can write about what it feels like to live as a ‘Generic Asian’ since I was six.
KEVIN: When you say Generic, I think of the Asian guy who does the dry-cleaning, or the Asian girl who sells sushi, or the Asian girl in hot pants and love-heart glasses heading into ‘Far Eastern’. Or the Asian guy who cleans the sanitary bins in the toilets at my work.
MAI: (Not convinced) That’s sort of it...
KEVIN: Is it what you guys do that makes you all the same?
MAI: We’re assumed to be the same because no matter whether we’re from Hong Kong, Cambodia, we’re treated the same. A Cambodian person’s skin is different to a Thai person’s! A Filipino person’s nose is different to a Chinese person’s. (Pause). Do you get it?
MAI: You have no idea how it feels to be treated purely on your skin colour, on your race, and not actually be an individual, for people to not actually see Kevin? For people to go, "Oh, there’s that white man, he must do that thing...he must eat heaps of burgers, and...and work...with a ‘white’ collar".
KEVIN: Don’t exaggerate.
MAI: When I cross the road I feel threatened because I think if I don’t cross the road fast enough I’m going to get run over. Where as, if I were Kevin, I would have all the time in the world. Because deep down, no one gives a shit about the Asian girl walking down the street - she probably doesn’t know anybody, she wouldn’t know what her rights are, she should feel lucky to even be in this country.
KEVIN: Come on, is that true?
MAI: Yes! I’m not kidding Kevin.
KEVIN: I don’t even notice you’re Asian anymore. You’re just Mai.
MAI: Thank you! But other people aren’t like that. When I call a large arts organisation to follow up on an email, they’re surprised I can even speak English - like I just wrote my email from some fucking dictionary! That someone with a name like mine shouldn’t be able to ‘talk Australian, mate.’ Or when I’m at a fancy restaurant, people assume I’m the wait staff, because I’m Asian and female so I must be into serving and shit.
KEVIN: Give me a break. If you’re born in Braybrook, your father isn’t going to even be a Driving Instructor, you know that? Don’t think you have a monopoly on disadvantage.
MAI: I write ‘Vietnamese issues’ because there were no books, or TV shows, or plays with people like me when I was a kid. There was the odd Asian character written by a white man, but it was like reading about Unicorns!
KEVIN: It’s not about colour, it’s about having money and connections in this country. And you can be white and dirt poor for generations, and no one will give a shit about you. They’re not going to run community arts projects for you...
MAI: Well they will, but they’ll photograph the black kid for their publicity.