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June 2, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Melodie Rose Reynolds, Princess Dramas

Published May 2011 by Beat magazine

Not many people get the opportunity to tackle a play written by a Nobel-prize winning, Austrian woman. Even fewer people get to do it while playing one of the most famous white women in 20th century history. Reduce the margins even further for someone doing this from the perspective of an Indigenous actor, one who has a long history of performing in Australian-based, realist theatre. Meet Melodie Rose Reynolds.

Reynolds, who has been involved in Australian theatre for over twenty years, is a guest actor in Red Stitch Theatre’s Princess Dramas, a three-part play written by Elfriede Jelinek, a politically outspoken and controversial writer. With a focus on the notion and impact of the princess myth, Princess Dramas explores this central theme in three parts; Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty, and Jackie (Jackie Onassis/Kennedy). Reynolds plays the titular role in the third play, and she is quick to point out that Jelinek’s particular style is also one of her biggest drawcards.

“I’m playing Jackie Onassis, and it’s like a twelve-page monologue really. The way that [Jelinek, as a writer] speaks…there’s groupings of words that I’ve never seen in this sort of structure before, so as far as an actor goes, it’s definitely a challenge.”

Jelinek’s work doesn’t shy away from difficult issues, with her often frank depictions of sex and violence, and her gravitation towards controversial topics including feminism and sexuality. Princess Dramas
explores how well-known women are portrayed, fictional or otherwise, and the oft-misogynistic representation of the “fairytale” woman. “I think [this play is] debunking the stereotypes and the icons of women [who] only have so much meaning in life because of a man…[like] Jackie O because of Jack Kennedy, and the princess [who] only wakes when the prince kisses her in Sleeping Beauty.” says Reynolds.

Debunking such a powerful myth is no mean feat. As Reynolds notes, her part in the play “initially…felt overwhelming, but then once you’re in it, and guided by Andre [Bastian] the director, it actually does make sense once you come down to it. I’ve learned to look at the meaning in between the sentences.” Given Reynolds’s lack of familiarity with the kind of plays Jelinek writes, she was all the more appreciative of having a director, Andre Bastian, who is comfortable in this field. “Andre’s been fantastic in almost feeding me into a European style of theatre.”

Elfriede Jelinek might have made her name in the seventies, but her work still has a definite potential to resonate with audiences, particularly given the advertising-charged environment of today. Reynolds notes that “There’s a romanticism of [the princess myth]. Everyone likes to think of an ideal world, love and beauty and all that, but where do you stop? Look at any advertising these days about women and having to be a certain style and shape…that came out of the fairytale. In that respect, [fairytales] have a lot to answer for.”

While Jelinek’s work on its own is likely to interest audiences, Reynolds perspective on playing the role of Jackie O offers a whole new layer of meaning. Reynolds is an Indigenous actor playing a prodigiously famous white woman, who was celebrated for her femininity, grace and princess-like demeanour. You have to wonder; does Reynolds approach the role differently to a non-indigenous, white person?

“It’s hard to say…the spirit world in indigenous culture is quite relevant and tangible… [and] I like to think that I bring a spiritual aspect to a role even though it is a very intellectual, wordy play. I’m hoping that I can still have that storyteller’s spirit there.” It’s clear spirituality plays an important part in the way Reynolds views acting. “Words are a vibration in the world…when I do come at it in different roles, I bring that along with it.’

Performing in Princess Dramas has certainly forced Reynolds to step outside her comfort zone, but it sounds like tackling
the complexity of Jelinek’s Princess Dramas was well worth the effort. “I’m sure I’ll be smiling about it later. But right now I feel like I’m underwater giving this interview, because I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of this play.”



Leave a Comment
  1. Ben Tolmie / Jun 16 2011 11:22 PM

    Well me and 4 friends just left this play at half time. Out right the worst play all of us have ever seen. So bad i am taking the time to let others know to save them wasting their money also. It was terribly put together and had extremely long and boring completely un-captivating monologues. This play did not manage to engage us, connect with us, interest us or stimulate us in almost any way. Hard to follow, terrible to watch. An hour of our lives we will never get back. The terrible scene with the giant penis and vagina dance was sadly the highlight of the play as it was mildly comical. Not sure if that was the intent. You have been warned. 🙂 a sad reflection on post modern fairy tale re-interpretation.

  2. Siobhan Argent / Jun 17 2011 9:48 AM

    Ouch. I know that, given Elfriede Jelinek’s background, this play was meant to be a little alternative. But I must say, I am completely intrigued by a giant dancing penis and vagina…

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