Victorian Premier’s Literary Award Drama 2018
Nisha and Yvette
- Playwright: Michele Lee (Asian-Australian playwright based in Melbourne)
- Title: Rice (3 acts)
- Published: 2017
- Trivia: Winner Victorian Premier’s Award Drama 2018
- Trivia: Winner Queensland Premier’s Award Drama 2016-2017
Understanding characters in plays allows the reader to relate to
different situations, backgrounds, and cultures.
Asian-Australian office cleaner Yvette clashes with
ambitious Australian-Indian Nisha corporate executive officer in multinational.
A lasting friendship begins.….
What is the play about?
- Michele Lee writes plays about women of colour.
- Rice is about an ambitious, self-obsessed Indian executive
- Nisha Gupta (28 yr) working for Golden Fields Company.
- She is the granddaughter of a West Bengal immigrant.
- She is ‘second in charge’ of an agricultural company.
- Yvette Tang (61 yr) is a Chinese immigrant.
- She is a single-mother, one daughter.
- She is an office cleaner.
- Yvette and Nisha.… multicultural women
- …making their way in modern Australia.
- Metaphor: Nisha is on the top floor of the building
- Metaphor: Yvette is in the basement of the building
- .…struggling with a menial job.
- Michele Lee uses parallels throughout the play to show
- us the connection between Yvette and Nisha.
- It took me 2 readings to discover them all!
Yvette and Nisha: similarities
- both work in Golden Fields building
- both have emotional ties to family – yvette/daughter; Nisha/grandmother
- both are ‘putting on an act’
- Yvette = “little old cleaner victim” – Nisha = “Your corporate act”
- both are businesswomen
- Yvette: Import.”You think I import plastics? (imports Prada knock-offs)
- Nisha: I’m E.O. of Golden Fields. I’m strategic!
- both live in suburbs of Melbourne
- ….but at opposite sides. Yvette: Eltham – Nisha: Werribee
- The ‘tit-for-tat’ dialogue between Nisha and Yvette…
- It snaps, crackles and pops off the page.
- Nisha: You’re the one with the vacuum cleaner. End of story
- Yvette: Not the end
- Nisha: Chinese cleaner
- Yvette: Indian princess
- Nisha: You’re a cleaner
- Yvette: You’re a baby
- Yvette: I empty. (complained that Nisha left her rubbish on desk an not in bin)
- Nisha: Both my bins are full. Nothing on the table. Happy?
- They’re from different cultures, different generations
- …but a bond develops between Yvette and Nisha
- Yvette: Act 1 Very fussy. Very big bitch. Hope she get fired
- Yvette: Act 3 (…she mumurs) “I will miss you little shadow.“
- Nisha: Act 1 I stay. I eat. I make a mountain of rubbish for you.
- Nisha: Act 3 You tell me what to do…Well I pretty much did, ok?
- Yvette: Act 3 “All you want is me to say you are right.”
- Nisha: Act 3 “Say something about me. Tell me. Judge me“
Echoes: of friendship
- Act 1:
- Nisha “This is the part of the story where we first meet.”
- Yvette: “This the part where we eat.” (rice together….)
- Rice is an ancient symbol of wealth,
- success, fertility and good health.
- It is powerful.
- Act 3:
- Yvette “This is the part where we leave together.
- This is the part where we go.”
- Plays the victim …(act 2)
- …groveling at the feet of David Egan, son of CEO of Coles company.
- Does not express her opinion…”But not everything I think I have to say.”
- Act 3 we see a ‘re-born’ Yvette with a voice!
- A voice in sync with the new generation….her daughter Sheree!
- “Mr. David Egan. Fuck you.
- “Coles is evil and the system is broken.
- And that is all I have to say to you. Mr. David Egan.”
- In the first two acts Nisha is a corporate ‘high-roller.”
- She has a better grasp of the world.
- She is is a little brighter than the next person.
- She is a high stakes player who is willing
- to place large bets and take risks.
- She is brokering a rice deal with biggest retainer in the world.
- Plot: Nisha’s fatal overseas
- business trip to sell rice to the Indians.
- “Any day now this phone is going to sing.”
- …this is game-changing, history-breaking.”
- Act 3 “I don’t do anything special. (E.O) It’s a bullshit title.
- Nisha once demanded Yvette clean….end of story.
- Now Nisha helps Yvette empty bins,
- …squashes the rubbish down and adds in new bin liners.
- She’s about to be fired….the rise and fall of Nisha.
- Michele Lee allows Yvette a
- heightened level of knowledge about Nisha.
- The older generation may not have
- a Masters degree from University of Sydney
- but Yvette can teach Nisha.
- Yvette shows her that she should not be afraid of
- shame…of failing…not being perfect.
- Yvette has learned that the hard way.
Nisha and Yvette help each other:
- Courage is the feeling we need to bring to the surface
- if we want to change things.
- Nisha helps Yvette find her voice and the courage to quit.
- The courage to be closer to her daughter.
- Yvette helps Nisha to see the world from ‘street level’
- and realize how lucky she is.
- “You need help? Huh? Why? You are young,
- you have a job. Look at you.
Strong point: coded words, foreign languages…multicultural
- Echoes: “Wo hui xiang nie de, xiao yingzi”
- This is the thread that connects Yvette to Nisha
- “I will miss you little shadow”.
- Echoes: “Tini bijoyer sathei aasen.”
- This is the thread that connects Nisha to Yvette
- and her grandmother.
- “She moves with victory.”
Valerie: voice that makes you stop and think…comic relief.
- Valerie is a 60+ Russian who
- …is the cleaning service supervisor of Yvette.
- She is only in the first act…but has something to say!
- Valerie and Yvette represent the older generation.
- How is that fussy bitch? (Nisha)
- Fuck you time sheet! (cleaners trained for 2 minute only office clean)
- Why is this world worse than when we came into it?
- Don’t look so tragic. Life is shit. Company training say so.
Theme: mother vs daughter
- Yvette Chinese cleaner vs Sheree political activist/law student.
- These are the emotional scenes
- a mother and a daughter.
- Yvette and Sheree are from different generations.
- Act 1:
- “In this world you bring me shame, but I only have you…
- …you only have me.”
- They are exact opposites.
- Act 2:
- Sheree wants trouble,
- to step on corporate toes, be a modern-day martyr.
- Yvette wants to keep a low profile… nose to the grindstone.
- Yvette has learned it does not pay ‘to make waves.’
- Act 2:
- Mother and daughter clash.
- Sheree speaks her mind: “You only do things for yourself” ….
- Yvette: “Your Ma, always, always, everything to help you, keep you….”
- In Act 3 I found the most poignant remarks by Yvette:
- “Thank you for being mine.”
What is different in this play?
- Characters: There are 11 characters in the play.
- but just two actresses on the stage.
- The women can change their voices, accents
- and stage lighting (according to the stage directions)
- helps differentiate the characters.
- TWO protagonists: Nisha and Yvette
- story lines are closely intertwined,
- …both in the plot and the theme.
- Structure: NOT the classic 3 act play
- focus on 1 character – conflict-driven –
- cause and effect….progressively raising the stakes.
- This is OPEN MODEL:
- uses parallel action, echoes
- events linked by coincidence
- ending, instead of resolution
Conclusion: my thoughts
Note: I have learned that when I read a play I know I will absorb only the basics during the first reading: characters, setting, structure of the play. The best way to read a play is just before bedtime. Then I try to retell mysef what the play is about. In the morning I have new thoughts about conflicts, parallels, repetition of phrases (echoes). Reading a play is more difficult than reading a novel!
Note: This play is a brilliant piece or writing that you will not realize if you just read it once. The subplots are good (Graeme, Tom, Johnny Song) but concentrate on the main character’s dialogues of Nisha and Yvette. Try to hear….what is NOT being said! Michele Lee has deservedly won prestigious prizes: Victorian Premier’s Award Drama 2018 and Queensland Premier’s Award Drama 2016-2017.
Note: Reading a play on Kindle…is not as much fun. In the book I can make notes, highlight dialogue. Yes, I can do that on Kindle…..but I love having the script in front of me. It is an intimate reading of a playwrights hard work! It is so much fun to dissect a play.
Australian ‘new to me’ or slang:
- ASOS: – global fashion place for 20-somethings
- The Iconic: Australian/New Zealand fashion place for 20-somethings
- bogan – One of minimal intelligence, standards and fasion sense. Located in Australia, found in caravan parks, housing commission, the pub or Centrelink queues. (Urban dictionary)
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