Written by: Bob Crimeen, Herald-Sun
Rarely does a play as bitter and painful as Melbourne debutant dramatist Frank Otis’ Now I Lay Me Down come to our stages.
La Mama presents the raw and uncompromising production mounted by director Tony Le Nguyen within the stark space of the Carlton Courthouse in Drummond St.
Every essential ingredient for high-voltage, life based theatre is there, and nothing is spared by writer, director or cast.
The one-act docudrama’s subject is child rape, perpetrated by brutal male parents.
The trigger for Otis, who bravely plays the lead male role, Lee, to pen the play was a brutal knifepoint rape he endured one evening in Carlton. Many of the emotional scares he suffered during and after the attack are bared in Now I Lay Me Down. His character in the play has not been raped in adulthood; he is a disturbed man who has brought charges against the father who brutalised him during childhood.
The play’s other central character, Leeanne, played with searing intensity by Jennifer Priest, is a rape victim also. Horrific nightmares, during which she is raped, have forced her to seek counselling from a psychiatrist, Dr Dasill.
The sessions have woken the cause of the trauma … sexual atrocities committed by her father in early childhood.
Otis’ text is littered with language that still shocks some people. The action is explicit, and the force with which it is played out mirrors Le Nguyen’s experience as an actor in the controversial western suburbs racial warfare film Romper Stomper.
The play is solid in content, but its theatricality would be improved by a skilled dramaturge working with the writer. Finely honed performances come from Priest, Elizabeth Rule and Yvonne Virsik. But it is the play, rough at the egdes, but utterly sincere in its purpose, that makes Now I Lay me Down theatre that will live in the conscience for a long time.