Crime and punishment: Kathy Petrakis’ Black Rainbow

Black Rainbow is a new play from writer Kathy Petrakis. Set in a fictitious suburb in Sydney’s south, it is a kind of Romeo and Juliet story, in which a boy leads a double-life as scholarship-student and lookout for a gang of drug-dealers.
Staged in the Tap Gallery’s upstairs theatre, there is an earnestness and heart to this production which is missing in other, high-profile shows across Sydney. Petrakis, a self-published novelist as well as an actor, director and dancer, has created a play about choices, the grey area between right and wrong, and about family.

As raw and earnest as Black Rainbow is, there is something still missing from it as a stage-play. On her website, Petrakis says she is playing with various script formats as alternative ways of telling stories, and it shows here. While there is nothing wrong with the ambition and flow of her story, each scene is followed by a blackout while the stage is set for a new scene in a new location, each scene no longer than several minutes. A technique which film accommodates naturally, it gives the action on stage a disjointed feel and disrupts the narrative flow from scene to scene, event to event, cause to effect.
Rachel Scane’s set and costumes ground the story in a gritty contemporary world with ease and economy, and Larry Kelly’s lighting is warm and simple, dividing the space into two or three distinct areas as the script requires. Petrakis’ cast are all honest in their performances. Louis Emerson-Chase as Ahmed/Andy carries his role with an endearing kind of charm; as his two lives come into conflict with each other, his inner struggle is a little too obvious. There’s a tangible menace to Daniel Hitching’s Mick, while we have no trouble believing Sameul Smith’s Tarek as the leader of the gang (even if, as a last-minute replacement, he was on book for a few key moments). Ursula Dauenhauer’s Candy carries herself with a playfulness and a vulnerability which cuts against the toughness of the men she surrounds herself with. There is a strong-willed sense of justice, and more than a little anger and menace, in William Jordan’s Mr Novak, the public prosecutor whose path crosses with Ahmed/Andy’s more than once, while Melody Ha as his daughter Sarah (and Ahmed/Andy’s girlfriend) is perhaps the stand-out of the show. Her Sarah is raw, open, honest, generous and compassionate; she doesn’t feel so much a character as a person, someone we might have known, and it is a joy watching her grow as a character across the play’s unfolding canvas.
Petrakis directs with broad strokes, ensuring that every last ounce of meaning is extracted from the script; nothing is left to the subtext or nuance. While some of the cast bring their own layers to their characters and scenes, the result is a well-intentioned if slightly forced play. A tighter dramaturgical eye could perhaps clear up some unnecessary explanations of time-jumps, could dilute its soap-opera feel, could tighten the narrative flow of the story, and reduce the need for constant blackouts during scene changes, while trimming some of the longer expository moments and Ahmed/Andy’s two superfluous monologues.
If Black Rainbow was perhaps tighter and with a degree of subtext, it could be quite successful as a show for a teenage school’s audience. It’s raw and contemporary, has a story which has a simple message to it, and it has heart.

Theatre playlist: 51. Griff’s Theme, Kids At Risk

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