Life As I Knew It

Kate O’Keeffe. Nexus Gallery. 16 Mar 2012

While many playwrights weave or re-interpret their life experiences into a fictional narrative, Kate O’Keeffe’s Life As I Knew It is more like reality television – it all happened, it’s still happening, and it is happening to her.  In July 2011, Kate’s brother, Daniel, walked away from his beautiful family in Geelong - comprising two wonderful parents, three doting sisters and a brother - without notice, and has not communicated with them since.  Just prior to his departure he had been diagnosed with depression.  He is now a missing person.  As she unpacks her family’s bonhomie prior to the disappearance, literally with objects from a bottomless cardboard box, and through superbly presented happy snaps, I only wondered – Who was going to crack up first, her or me?  It was visceral and heartbreaking.

The start of Kate’s monologue was slightly unrelaxed and the first sentences were delivered a little hesitatingly like an actor playing Kate.  After that, it’s all ticker and she easily takes us away with us on her journey.  She bravely – incredibly, indescribably bravely - recounts watching the story unfold on Australian news television via internet while in New York, her quick return home to be with her family, the interviews and appeals to the public, their direct action by distributing posters and, the tsunami of support from relatives, friends and strangers, and even organised searches of the haunts of the homeless based on indications he has chosen a life on the street.  Even now, anywhere and all the time, even in some new strange city or town, her eyes attempt to pry behind the dark hoods of the disenfranchised for a glimpse of Dan.  Dan is everywhere and nowhere.

There is a solitary fragment of evidence – accepted as credible but not as proof by the family - that Daniel was in Queensland at a known time before Christmas.  The show’s publicity states that the family is unwilling to accept the loss of their brother and son, and Kate’s monologue is about her and her family’s grief and the impact on them.  It made me think about the choices that Dan has made about how to live his life, even his choice not to be in touch - that these are the choices of a troubled mind and there is no way of reaching a rationalisation.  Could I accept those choices?  No one knew Dan as well as they thought even when he was amongst them.  The monologue ended without knowing, of course, and there was not a dry eye in the house.  Come home, Daniel O’Keeffe. 

David Grybowski

When: 18 Mar
Where: Nexus Gallery - Lion Arts Centre