Tthe late Australian Pastor Ted Noffs, nominally Methodist, embraced the rich kaleidoscope of chaos that comes with fighting for the outcast and the downtrodden. He was accused by his own church hierarchy of being a heretic because of his rejection of the doctrine that Christ’s sufferings would save the world; he believes, as his deeds show, that we on Earth can save ourselves.
Serving the misfits – travelers, sex workers, drug users and the mentally ill – Noffs founded the Wayside Chapel in Sydney’s Kings Cross in 1964, privately marrying thousands of couples in the face of union fanaticism. interreligious and interracial.
Among those he married was the author’s mother and stepfather Alana Valentine. In photos from the wedding day, her mother Janice looks happy, having “found someone to marry her and take the kids” we learn in Valentine’s new drama Wayside Bride, directed by Hannah Goodwin and Eamon Flack.
Valentine specializes in verbatim theater: interviewing real-life subjects then basing his play on these conversations. For this hilarious and highly relevant new work, the interview begins at home, where we meet the fictionalized version of adult Alana and Janice, played by Emily Goddard and Sacha Horler.
Janice’s shell had hardened over the years, shutting down when Alana tried to interview her mother about her Wayside wedding: sentimentality, she denounced, would not give the screenwriter any perception or insight. But then, the stage version of Alana puts on her mother’s wedding dress as a second skin – “disguise at my own game”, she quips – and time travels to meet other people passing through the mundane street station of Noffs.
Wayside Bride becomes a tribute to true love and belonging, as well as part of Noffs’ idea of accepting, rather than trying to “fix” people, while also acknowledging the frown: Noffs and his wife, Margaret’s dedication to the forgotten. in inner Sydney comes at the expense of time spent on their wedding and with their children.
The ensemble of 10 actors performs multiple roles: the best self, the shadow self, the self-loathing self. Horler switched from playing Janice to Margaret, while Brandon McClelland played Ted, in a powder blue safari suit with a brown tie and white shoes. The two actors are dynamic on stage, inspiring the couple with dramatic power and engaging humor. The real Ted died in 1995, but Margaret died just last December at the age of 95, prompting Valentine to write “this is the death of a great Australian, a loving, extraordinary person who, no less than Ted, was responsible for establishment of the magnificent Wayside Chapel.”
There is authenticity and warmth in Valentine’s humanitarian carousel: Wiradjuri and actor Yuin Angeline Penrith play Justine, passionate and full of life despite believing her mother left her in the cradle; he later learns that he was stolen from his mother, an atrocity that befell many indigenous Australians. Marco Chiappi stars as wide-eyed, beckoning Sean, sleeping with his bride-to-be Joan (Sandy Greenwood) in their car – then transitioning to playing an upscale gay man who is seduced by Margaret to drive a fatherless stranger down the aisle.
Rebecca Massey squeezes out some of the funniest lines, playing sideline gossip in a honeycomb hairdo, then a raunchy actor, then a sex worker with the nom de plume Dusty, with her working boyfriend Blossom (Greenwood again). And Maggie Blinco comes across as the typical madwoman, speaking poetry and paranoia, bullshit and common sense; and then as a dignified grandmother, remembering her Wayside marriage nearly 50 years earlier to a Vietnamese Australian, whose family struggled to accept because she wasn’t white.
Tightening the script in some places might be useful. The name checks of many of Noffs’ contemporaries did not hold much dramatic interest. And with a juke box and a few unplayed instruments around the stage, more suggestive music from a certain era can elevate first appearances in particular.
People in all their permutations and in those most vulnerable are the heart of Wayside Bride, raw and unvarnished but lovingly rendered. Among those of us whose conventional family life is less than ideal, we can imagine ourselves in this portrait of mismatch. The final scene is a celebration of diversity, the throw of a wreath perfect for these times.