Sadness | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader


Based on a slide-illustrated stage monologue by writer and photographer William Yang, Tony Ayres's complex and moving Australian video interlaces the AIDS-related deaths of Yang's friends with his experience reclaiming his Chinese-Australian identity. Yang tries to unravel the mystery behind the 1922 murder of his uncle; he hears many conflicting stories, but when he learns that the culprit was acquitted, apparently because of anti-Chinese racism, he understands why his mother played down their Chinese heritage. Episodes from this narrative alternate with segments that use still photographs to document the illness and death of one gay friend after another. Yang narrates each episode, speaking to the camera in a monotone, and his studied lack of affect encourages the viewer to supply the emotion instead of being told how to feel. Video images of the present are combined with reenactments that look intentionally artificial, and sometimes Yang's voice doubles the reenacted dialogue, which seems to stress the impossibility of ever knowing the past. In the end Yang unites these two stories of minority groups victimized by prejudice, saying of the spirits of the dead, "We should not pull them into the physical world with our sadness." On the same program, two videos: Sibyl O'Malley's A Strain of You and Andy Abrahams Wilson's Casualty. Village, Sunday, November 14, 1:00. --Fred Camper

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