Review: Upstream Theater's 'Windmill Baby' is More Than Dust in the Wind

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

Our memories of our past come when they come, whether we want them or not and without regard to linear timelines. This is how the story of Maymay Starr—an Australian Aboriginal woman—plays out in “Windmill Baby,” currently playing at Upstream Theater. Played with poetic and balletic grace by Linda Kennedy, Maymay visits the site of an old cattle station where she spent many years toiling in near-slavery. But there are good memories too, and good and bad both flow through her like a jagged stream. It’s a haunting performance that ultimately asks us to consider who we—as humans—are.

Linda Kennedy in Windmill Baby Photo by Peter Wochniak

Linda Kennedy in Windmill Baby
Photo by Peter Wochniak

Maymay has returned to this dry, dusty landscape for some “unfinished business,” she says, and begins to hang some laundry that was bone dry decades ago, an activity she will periodically return to throughout the performance. It’s a fitting metaphor as she recalls a particular season on the station full of love, happiness and shattering cruelty that culminates in tragedy and despair. Her memories come in no particular order, much as the old laundry comes from the tub, and the memories too are hung in the air to finally dry and for all to see.

Linda Kennedy in Windmill Baby Photo by Peter Wochniak

Linda Kennedy in ‘Windmill Baby’
Photo by Peter Wochniak

Kennedy’s performance is erudite and compelling, switching emotions and inner being as quickly as the memories come—her expressive face wizened with the heavy experience of life to childlike amazement and joy as she recounts tales of humor, compassion, love, inhumanity and brutality. She sings, she dances, she struts and she collapses in anguish, portraying a host of characters ranging from Oneman the crippled gardener, her husband Malvern, “the boss,” and “the missus,” and even a mischievous half-Dingo mutt named Skitchem.

Linda Kennedy in Windmill Baby Photo by Peter Wochniak

Linda Kennedy in “Windmill Baby”
Photo by Peter Wochniak

Director Philip Boehm, who continues to bring important foreign works to St. Louis for their premieres, does a fine job in directing and putting this show together. It’s an important work, having premiered in Australia in 2005, winning the Patrick White Award and many others, and touring internationally. But only now can local audiences see the compelling show and Ms. Kennedy’s magnetic performance.

“Windmill Baby” continues at Upstream Theater through May 11. For more information, visit the Upstream Theater website.

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