Highly genuine and all-round captivating, The Family Tree presents a memorable piece of autobiographical theatre.
'The Father', Chiranjiva Roy (Image provided by Alicia Easteal)
The Family Tree comes in the form of a theatrical documentary about Melbourne-based writer and performer Alicia Easteal's unusual upbringing. Using visual aids, spoken word and the occasional 70s music soundbite, Easteal recounts childhood memories of growing up as a member of The Family, a hippie commune that followed the practices of an unconventional Hindu-based doctrine. She recalls being a young child, reading a newspaper article on Charles Manson's own ‘family’ and noticing striking similarities – strange names, living communally and having a charismatic leader. It was then that she decided that being a member of The Family was meant to be kept a secret... until today.
‘I'm coming out,’ Easteal quips, as she unzips her jacket to reveal a shirt that reads in capital letters: ‘cult member’. With a charming mix of wry humour and earnestness, Easteal narrates her own life story of traversing through the unorthodox domain of a cult. The bohemian lifestyle of communal living she experienced up to five years of age, is revealed to be filled with warmth and fun. The love she felt from other adults in The Family, known within as ‘gods’ and ‘goddesses’, appeared to be heartfelt and sincere. Easteal successfully demystifies the abstruse understandings and allure of a cult by applying universal themes of love and kinship. Her singular life story turns into something intrinsically human and also, something very normal.
However, living in a cult comes with a dark undertone of substance abuse. Easteal recalls commune members who were deeply into heroin and even reveals her own drug-dependent parents. It is interesting to note that Easteal was also given a bong for her fifteenth birthday present. Perhaps for personal reasons, Easteal does not fully delve into this part of her past, but it does leave much to be said. Regardless, Easteal's selective storytelling is a cohesive narrative that proves to be compelling and profound.
Ultimately, Easteal exhibits sharply perceptive writing and an open, confident persona in this one-woman show. For Easteal, the boundaries between the cult world and the ‘normal’ world merge to form her own distinct personal lifestyle. Highly genuine and all-round captivating, The Family Tree presents a memorable piece of autobiographical theatre.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars
The Family Tree
Written and performed by Alicia Easteal
Stage manager and lighting by Elise Allen
La Mama Theatre, Faraday St