The Storyteller: Rick Viede
Inspired by the recent spate of ‘misery hoaxes’, and fuelled by our fascination with the grand suffering of the victim, queer playwright Rick Viede’s Griffin Award-winning sophomore play A Hoax is another example of why he is one of the most exciting new voices on our theatrical landscape, writes Garrett Bithell.
Much like the tax office or a good defence lawyer, the role of the playwright is to ask the tough questions.
It’s certainly a role Rick Viede has always wholeheartedly embraced – one of his finest skills as both a writer and a performer is his willingness to start conversations that normally lie dormant in Australian society. His provocative sophomore play A Hoax, inspired by the recent spate of fabricated ‘misery memoirs’ – including James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, Wanda Koolmatrie’s My Own Sweet Time, and the Laura Albert ‘JT LeRoy’ controversy – dares to look past our quick, angry judgment of these individuals. Instead, Viede asks the question: what is causing this phenomenon, and what does it say about contemporary psychology?
“The sheer number of these misery hoaxes provides a really interesting insight into our society in terms of our concept of success and our almost post-modern fascination with pain and the grand suffering of the victim,” Viede tells SX. “In this really weird, perverted way you can actually gain stature through your suffering. We’re almost feeding this cottage industry of melodramatic misery – ‘oh I was in rehab and then I had to have my tooth extracted with no anaesthetic because I was so addicted, but I did it because I’m strong...’ It’s a really stupid, base narrative.”
A Hoax is centred on Currah, a young indigenous girl who was horrifically abused by her white stepfather. We then meet Ant, her social worker; Ronnie Lowe, the hot-shot literary agent; and Tyrelle, Ronnie’s camp, gender-bending assistant. When Currah’s controversial memoir ‘Nobody’s Girl’ hits the top of the bestseller list, “the story starts to both explode and implode”.
“It’s really easy to judge these people who tell horrible, calculated lies,” Viede muses. “And we do judge them – often from a very superior place. But I kind of always related to them. I understood why they did what they did. Hopefully it’s not my personal experience anymore, but I have been desperate before, and I have thought about doing very full-on things – I’ve done full on things – to try and get somewhere. I know what it’s like to be powerless; I know what it’s like to be invisible.
“I think that’s one of the strengths of my writing – I can help people empathise with these journeys.”
According to Viede, one of our greatest flaws as a culture is the way we so quickly apportion blame, without ever asking ‘why?’ “What are these people really doing?” he opines. “Is it really just about their ego? I think it’s more complicated. It’s hard to get noticed in this world.”
Viede is one of the most exciting new voices in Australian theatre. He burst onto the scene when his first play Whore won the Griffin Award for outstanding new Australian writing. He then took Whore to New York, and soon after won the penultimate Queensland Premier’s Literary Award. In a massive coup for Viede, he took out the Griffin Award a second time for A Hoax, which is now getting a main-stage season at Griffin after a run at La Boite in Brisbane. Directed by Lee Lewis, the production stars Shari Sebbens, direct from new Australian feature film The Sapphires; American actor Charles Allen; and local performers Glenn Hazeldine and Sally McKenzie.
Where Whore was “a scream in the dark from a very new and inexperienced playwright”, A Hoax is a technically-assured piece of writing. “Whore was raw and immediate, and what it lacked in technical sophistication it made up for in sincerity, which I think is ideal for a first play,” Viede says. “But in A Hoax, nothing is there by accident – it’s been very thoroughly conceived.”
Tonally, A Hoax sees Viede move away from the drama and tragedy of Whore towards black comedy. “As a get older I get less interested in drama or tragedy,” he admits. “Maybe it’s because I’ve had a fairly tumultuous life – but I seem to have the need to express some pretty dark things. However as I continue on I’m more interested in comedy – black comedy of course, that’s quite twisted.
“This play is a lot funnier, it’s a lot shrewder in its observations, and it’s a little less angry. It’s quite satiric and biting, which is certainly where my work is moving towards. The best comedy allows the writer to say the most insightful things, and makes people think in a more complicated way.”
After seven months in New York, Viede is back in Sydney and ready to revive his notorious alter-ego ‘Glace Chase’, a gender-bending boy-drag character he uses to satirise his fellow Gen-Yers. “I miss that bitch quite a lot actually,” he says. “I’ve won these awards and had a season at Griffin, so I’m getting quite respectable – do I really want to go back to this trash character? Yes I do!”
[Pictured] Exciting new voice ... Rick Viede. Photo: Jason Nicho
A Hoax, Stables Theatre (10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross) from July 20 – September 1. Bookings www.griffintheatre.com.au or 02 9361 3817.