Arts / At home with a good, normal ‘blackfella family’

Lisa Maza, centre, and the cast of “The Season”. Photo by James Henry

LISA Maza is a larger-than-life personality with a rich sense of humour and she is playing an even more colourful personality in Nathan Maynard’s raucous homecoming comedy, “The Season”, soon coming to The Playhouse.

Last year it was at the Melbourne Festival, then Tasmania’s Ten Days on the Island and in Sydney. Now, with three new actors, it’s on tour nationally.

The confusing title has nothing to do with the Canberra Theatre’s season, except that it’s been programmed into it. It’s about the mutton-birding season on Great Dog Island in the Bass Strait. The Duncan clan normally live in Launceston, but get together each “season” to harvest mutton-birds off the north coast of Tasmania.

Maza gets to play Aunty Marlene, the rowdy aunty with a wandering eye, sister to Stella Duncan.

It’s an all-star cast that also includes Mathew Cooper, James Slee, Nazaree Dickerson, Maitland Schnaars, Della Rae Morrison and Trevor Jamieson, best known for playing the title role in “Namatjira”, but here playing a couple of outsiders.

“CityNews” catches up with Maza while she is on tour to Perth, about to perform the show in His Majesty’s Theatre. If her name sounds familiar, Maza is the daughter of the legendary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre pioneer, the late Bob Maza.

She lives with her sister Rachael, the director of Ilbijerri Theatre Company in Melbourne, and like her, is proud to mention her father – “Besides, it’s opened quite a few doors for me,” she laughs.

Playwright Nathan Maynard. Photo by Oliver Berlin

Like Rachael, she is deeply embedded in the theatre, having played in the stage versions of shows such as “Coronation Road”, “Radiance” and “The Sapphires” as well as performing with her sister in their own show, “Sisters of Gelam”.

And it continues to pass down the generations. While in Perth she’s spent lots of time with her nephew Ari Maza Long, Rachael’s son, who is now studying at the WA Academy of Performing Arts.

“The Season”, she believes, succeeds because it shows a real family.

“If you think about it, most of our audiences are middle-aged, middle-class white people and that’s fair enough, but this story is one they can all relate to because everybody has a family,” she says.

At the same time, playwright Nathan Maynard has taken the opportunity to show a good Aboriginal family and the dignity of culture.

“I’m sick of the way blackfellas are always shown as drunks or getting into fights all the time,” she says.

“This play shows a good, normal blackfella family.”

To Maza the biggest thing about the play is that it shows a family of Tasmanian Aborigines.

“I was brought up thinking there were no Tasmanian Aborigines left,” she says.

“Everyone thinks that, but it’s a myth”.

In fact the rollicking Duncan family bears a remarkable resemblance to that of first-time playwright Maynard, whose observations have drawn critical praise for dialogue that is “sharp as a tack and blunt as a brick”.

His family were removed from the island to mainland Tasmania generations ago and only returned for “the season”. Like the character Clay, he’s been hearing about Great or Big Dog Island all his life, but only got to go there as a 15-year-old. To him the play is a way of saying: “We’re still here”.

It’s a classic homecoming story. The Duncans, headed by Ben and Stella, get together for six weeks at birding time but their daughter Lou has been away for 16 years and now brings her teenage son, Clay.

“This time on the island, it’s different… the older generations are teaching the young ones about their culture, the traditions, but there are lots of laughs and also all the secrets come out,” Maza says.

“The characters are great and Aunty Marlene is probably the best part I’ve ever played.”

“The Season”, The Playhouse, September 13-15.

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