Sunday, October 17, 2010

Themes of West Side Story

On Thursday night, I left work to go and see West Side Story with my parents and number of their friends.

West Side Story is an excellent musical, the songs were familiar, everyone sang very well, and overall it was enjoyable (although there was a very weird dream sequence with everyone dancing around in white after the intermission which confused a lot of people, myself included.)

But although it was very good (the actors were superb), I still found it a bit problematic and confronting. It's a love story, Romeo and Juliet (if you like) with the background of open racism, killing, police corruption, and (one case of) rape.

I know it is supposed to reflect the time, rampant racism and chauvinism (which of course meant that women of colour got the double whammy) but frankly, if that is what it was like (and I know it wasn't much different here in Australia), I can only be glad I wasn't alive yet. Growing up in the Eighties, in the lingering shadow of the remnants of the White Australia Policy* was uncomfortable. Being called names by the parents of my fellow students, and having said students repeat them is still rather disturbing to me, and so this play was, well quite provocative.

I did enjoy it though, I was surprised by how many of the songs I had heard before. I could almost sing along to most of them.

*Although the policy was fully disbanded in the early 70's, it took a lot longer for the people to follow suit. My Mother, arriving in the country later that decade and being one of two Chinese women in the town she was living in, made her an unusual sight. The other woman was the Doctors wife, and older matronly type that people didn't want to annoy as she ran the reception at his office. People used to come and stare at my mum. People don't like to talk of it, or think of it, but some people do still treat you differently when they talk to you on the phone, and then see you in person and realise you're Chinese (or black, or something other than the fully white person they were expecting after you spoke so beautifully to them on the phone). I've had people recoil when I introduce myself. Not much, because for the most part they can tell I'm Eurasian, but that's it. My Mum still gets it quite regularly. Because obviously a Chinese person must have a Chinese accent. But she doesn't.

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