I was dragged along to see the latest David Williamson play, “Don Parties On”, but when the curtain came down, much to my immense surprise I was very content with what I had seen. For someone of my political disposition, it was an unexpected treat. What I am about to describe may seem more like the ingredients for a tragedy but it really is played for laughs. Since it has just opened in Sydney, and may be going elsewhere after that, if you are intending to see it, just be warned I am about to reveal quite a bit of what goes on. I will just add this, that I cannot see how anyone on the left took a moment of pleasure from the play.
I hang around plenty of people on the left and am all too aware of their various agendas. Given my expectation is that a Williamson play will be a dialogue in which all of the latest fads and fashions get a run, I was somewhat reluctant to have to put up with two hours of more of the same. The characters aren’t really characters; they are more in the way of cardboard cut-out caricatures, spokespersons for various ideological positions. What a dreary night I was therefore expecting but let me tell you how surprised I was. I am not sure that Williamson really was intending to provide such a pleasant night out for someone such as myself, but there you have it. I should also mention that in putting all this into words, I am not necessarily disclosing my own personal position on anything.
The story is a continuation of the original “Don’s Party” which takes place in 1969 at an election party on the night of Whitlam’s losing election. Some 41 years later most of the same people are back, a lifetime of experience later, to watch the results of the election in 2010. Of the main protagonists only one had voted for the Coalition. The rest voted Greens except for one who voted for the ALP (maybe there was a second but I can’t think who). The usual balance I expect for a play put on by Marxists, Trots and Comms.
My first moment of astonishment, however, came midway through the first act. We are introduced to a woman who had that day been dismissed from the ALP Cabinet in Victoria, a hardcore Laborite if ever there was one. But what made her part of the story so unexpected was her revelations about what had been the consequences of the first Don’s Party. She had become pregnant to any one of four people, one being her husband and the others not. She already had four kids. She had therefore had an abortion. So what’s new?
Well this was new, at least to me. Having the abortion had almost entirely ruined her life. It had plunged her into clinical depression that had taken literally years to find her way out of again. This is not an unknown consequence but I did not expect to find it discussed here.
Perhaps I don’t get out enough, but I have not before come across such a straightforward anti-abortion statement anywhere in the popular press. This was down the line Tony Abbott. And none of it, not a single moment of the play, was used to rescind and retract so much as a syllable of this tale of misery. I think you would have to go back to the first Alfie movie, the one with Michael Caine, to find anything like it served up as part of a mainstream popular entertainment.
The second theme that ran through the plot was that Don’s son was about to split with his wife. The son had run off with some “Bohemian” who made him feel alive again unlike his wife of many years, the mother of his children, who as the play begins had that day attempted suicide because her husband has left her for another woman.
Don and his wife try to convince their son to return to his wife but he is reluctant even to visit her in hospital. He wants a complete break and having taken this step, he doesn’t want to find himself sucked back into what he feels is a loveless marriage. So here we have a play that emphasises the sanctity of marriage and the need to stay together for the kids. Is this the new cutting edge?
Yet as the plot unfolds, it turns out that Don had had an affair many years before with Helen, the wife of the only Liberal voter in the room. This Liberal voter is quite ill, has emphysema and must drag an oxygen bottle around with him wherever he goes. Don, however, is still mad about Helen all these years later and although he hasn’t seen her in decades tries to convince her to run off with him again.
OK. It’s all played for laughs. I shouldn’t take it so seriously. But the nature of the play is that this oh so ethical leftist, even Green Party voter, this man who had just tried to convince his son to go back to his wife, this man who has been married to a woman for forty years while she has been married to him, tries to convince the wife of someone who is sick and possibly dying, to leave her husband and come away with him while he in turn abandons his wife.
So why did I enjoy the play? The pleasure was to see right there before me a man of the left portrayed as moral vermin. Here is someone without an ounce of decency and human good. He is filled with a mass of pretensions about what a right thinking person he is, the apex of human kindness and the rest. But in reality he is worm eaten and evil, a monster in the making.
Could someone on the right side of politics write such a play? Maybe. But an audience would immediately see through the story line since nothing like this could be handled in such a light hearted way. In fact, someone with normal sensibilities, in trying to put down such a story, could not conceive such a plot since the contradictions embedded in the plot would be instantly apparent.
If anyone in the audience actually was willing Don to succeed in taking Helen from her husband while abandoning his own wife, they are, to put it kindly, morally tuned out. The play was a great night out for me because it reflected what I see as an ethical vacuum on the left. I just wonder how many who had watched the play would have appreciated the morality they were implicitly endorsing by laughing at all the wrong places. I can see why the play had such poor reviews from all the usual suspects.