What does a story about gun violence in America have to do with Australian audiences? Joanna Murray-Smith, Playwright and Author of the powerful theatrical drama 'American Song' has three very good answers.
“The first one is that we're increasingly living in a global context,” Joanna begins. “Kids now think beyond their own borders in terms of the life they're going to live, so in that regard I think that anything that is part of contemporary society going on anywhere in the world is relevant to us.
“Secondly, I think that the story of guns can be applied across the board, where we decide whether to ascribe control to the government or whether we leave it up to human beings to use their own intelligence, rationality and discretion in how they harness some aspects of society, in this case guns. That's obviously a big topic in America, but we can apply it to all sorts of things here.”
More than a polemic about a nation's cultural obsession with guns, 'American Song' contemplates the realities, or more appropriately, limitations, of parental responsibility, all told through the life experiences of one man, Andy (played by Joe Petruzzi) as he builds a stone wall in the country and reflects on his life.
“But most importantly, I would say that while 'American Song' certainly is about guns in America and tells a story which is focused on gun violence, really, ultimately, the play is more about the experience of being a parent than it is about guns,” Joanna explains.
“It's about the notion of how we discover, often inadvertently and certainly painfully, that we are not in control of the human beings that we make. They have their own destiny, they will make their own lives, they will have their own morality, they will be influenced by their own influences, and while we can pretend we can control them at least while they're young, at some point we end up learning that we are witnesses to their lives and not puppeteers.”
Joanna Murray-Smith - Image © Grant Sparkes-Carroll
As Andy tells his story, we discover how his life has unexpectedly intercepted with gun violence, perpetrated by his son. 'American Song' is not just a story about a country but it also examines how one man fits into an increasingly fragmented society that no longer resembles what it was meant to be.
In 'American Song', Joanna attempts to make sense of the senselessness mass shootings arouse and the morbid, though perfectly human, curiosity that leaves us asking not just 'how could this happen?' and 'why?', but 'what could I have done differently?'.
“I think it's natural we try to make sense of these things,” Joanna says.
“That we all search for answers, that your first reaction is to somehow explain it to yourself. Particularly in these events where there is no easy answer as to why, we are caught inside the panic and the horror of the mystery of the event, so you never really find escape from it because you can't attribute it to any one thing.”
'American Song' is on at QUT Gardens Theatre 20-21 March.