The MILF and Mistress

by | Jan 30, 2023

By Bec Johnston

Red Hot Productions’ latest outing this Midsumma Festival takes expectant punters into Theatre Works’ Explosives Factory, a vast room of blacked-out windows and thumping dance music. It’s opening night of The MILF & Mistress, a new Australian play by Jane Montgomery Griffiths. The air is electrified, anticipation is high. Posters feature latex-clad Dominatrixes (Dominatrices?) and promises made of “a rare and compelling theatrical event that centres on the older lesbian experience”. These are perhaps warring ideas in most minds – assumptions this production sets out to deeply challenge in what is an exciting Melbourne debut.

Do women really hire sex workers? What about perimenopausal lesbians? Stories like these are not told often, a void of representation that Producer/Director Dianne Toulson feels passionately about addressing on a “stage [that] feels barren of lesbian stories”.

The play follows Ali, a middle-aged married lesbian, mother-of-two, suburbanite teacher. She is a perfect concoction of all that is dull and humdrum about this curious and particular period of life, when all the angst and amorous frenzy of youth gives way to something quieter, more comfortable. For Ali, this existence is unbearable. There is something missing, something unnamable.

Ali studies Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary (2002) and feels the howling of something unfulfilled. A need to be subjugated and humiliated, made the total property of another. Ali has found the secret to her awakening, but is she brave enough to pursue it?

Montgomery Griffiths’ writing is clever, cutting and poignant. The script is full of rich and researched detail that never once feels superfluous. References to ‘FetLife’ and ‘munches’ will have some chuckling knowingly and others racing home to do some late-night Googling. The journey of Ali feels real and grounded, made wholly flesh by a glorious Jennifer Vuletic, a masterful puppeteer of our rapt attention.

The MILF and Mistress vows to “safely bring audiences right into the action,” and succeeds with the steady hand of the right performer. Vuletic bounces from laughs to gasps and back again with ease. We are guided securely down from the ecstatic highs of disorienting projections and the quivering, pale body silhouetted against them. These are striking and confronting moments, but we are reassured that relief from our tension is never far away. Sure enough, a quick transition back to Ali’s familiar inner world gives us our reprieve. Not once did this action feel truly risky. As Mistress reminds Ali, and us, we are safe.

This play is a provoking and thoughtful exploration into the desire of the unknown, the universal yearning to fill some unknowable inner void. Perhaps pursuing the answers to those questions is, at the end of the day, a radical act of self-love. The protagonist describes her visits to her Mistress as ‘therapy’. A visit to Theatre Works for a night with The MILF and Mistress feels a lot like it, too.

See it for yourself until February 4 at the Explosives Factory – visit the Midsumma website for more information.

Image: Andrew Bott

 

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