By Michele LeeDramaPlaylab

Rice

Rice is a two-hander play with two central characters – Nisha, a precocious corporate hotshot of Indian background and Yvette, a Chinese cleaner, who came to Australia as an adult. Nisha works for Golden Fields, a fictional Australian agricultural company.

Nisha is manoeuvring a deal for Golden Fields to take over the Indian rice distribution system. Yvette, a failed small business owner, has taken a job cleaning the Golden Fields offices.

Nisha's and Yvette's stories weave in and out of each other, interlinking. The world of the play is one of a shaky sisterhood, a corporate cosmos, impossible negotiations, ballsy ambition, where food staples are sold to the highest bidder, where characters confront their inner capitalist, where women topple women, where women rescue women. Survival demands clashes but also forges allegiances. And sometimes you get hungry, tired, and just want to sit down and eat a bowl of rice. Nisha and Yvette, strangers at the start, form a friendship that is up for grabs by the end.

Portrait of Michele Lee

Michele Lee

Michele Lee is an Asian-Australian playwright and theatre-maker working across stage and audio. She has been commissioned by Radio National, Next Wave Festival, Darwin Festival, Platform Youth Theatre, St Martins Youth Arts Centre, Arts House, Griffin Theatre Company, Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre.

Her previous works include Going Down (Malthouse Theatre, STC), Rice (Queensland Theatre, Griffin Theatre Company), Off Centre (STC), The Naked Self (FOLA, Arts House) and Talon Salon (Next Wave Festival, You Are Here Festival, Darwin Festival). Her radio play, See how the leaf people run, won an AWGIE for Best Original Radio Play. Her memoir, Banana Girl, is published by Transit Lounge.

Judges’ report

Rice propels us into the lives of two protagonists seldom seen on the Australian stage – an older Asian woman and a younger, second-generation Indian woman, both scrambling to make it in the world of commerce. The world of the play is full and complex: big themes such as capitalism and consumer waste, the glass ceiling and mother-daughter relationships, are handled with aplomb. Small touches – type 1 eel herpes – delight. The dialogue is snappy, the characters idiosyncratic, fully relatable and real - as narrow-minded as all people are. A richly rewarding play crafted with finesse. 

Extract

1.

NISHA’s office. One large desk, one smaller desk. A big view of the Melbourne CBD.

NISHA in her suit, heels, her lanyard dangling from her hip. YVETTE in her cleaners’ uniform, with a vacuum cleaner, gloves, her lanyard around her neck.

Stand-off.

NISHA: We’re in competition.

YVETTE: About rubbish.

NISHA: About rice.

YVETTE: About who cleans up your rice and rubbish.

NISHA: You’re the one with the vacuum cleaner. End of story.

YVETTE: Not the end.

NISHA: This is the part of the story where we first meet.

YVETTE: Indian princess.

NISHA: Chinese cleaner.

YVETTE: The princess eat breakfast in here.

NISHA: Green smoothie.

YVETTE: Lunch in here. 

NISHA: Salad.

YVETTE: Dinner.

NISHA: Not on Mondays — salsa dancing.

YVETTE:  You eat in here, all day. Keep your rubbish on table.

NISHA: My bin is for paper and staples.

YVETTE: Dinner: Chinese. One tub for stir-fry chicken, vegie. One for rice. Eat half of this. Leave two container out.

NISHA: You’re the cleaner.

YVETTE: You’re a baby.

NISHA: The other cleaner didn’t have a problem.

YVETTE: Other cleaning company lose contract for this building.

NISHA: The other cleaner, in fact, offered to clear that table every night.

YVETTE: New company hire cleaners three buck cheaper an hour. Hire me. Train me do two minute only. Two minute: vacuum, wipe, empty. If you put rubbish in bin, I empty. Two minute up. I go.

NISHA: I stay. I eat. I make a mountain of mess for you. You don’t clean it. I make a complaint through my facilities manager, who speaks to the client services manager at the new cleaning company, who speaks to their site manager for this building. She’s the prickly old Russian woman, who — of all feeble and ineffective things — with no punishment, merely passes on my complaint to you. Yvette Tang. The cleaner.

YVETTE: You. Nisha Gupta. The client.

NISHA: I’m not the ‘client’. I’m the EO of Golden Fields.

YVETTE: ‘E’ ‘O’?

NISHA: Executive Officer, second in charge. So clear that desk. 

YVETTE: I do it. I clean up after you.

NISHA: Thank you.

YVETTE: You say it once. I clean it up once.

NISHA: I don’t ask again.

YVETTE: I don’t do it.

NISHA: I watch my phone. It doesn’t sing. The Indians aren’t calling.

YVETTE: I go, you stay.

NISHA: I escalate the complaint.

YVETTE: I bring another bin.

NISHA: What for?

YVETTE: For you. Second bin. Keep here. Next to table. Put your rubbish in.

NISHA: Two bins?

YVETTE: Same for me when I ran my business.

NISHA: What business?

YVETTE: Should finish your rice.

NISHA: Not enough gravy.

YVETTE: Should take back your complaint.

NISHA: What was your business?

YVETTE: Import.

NISHA: Importing what?

YVETTE: Products.

NISHA: Bins? Plastics? 

YVETTE: You think I import plastics? Ha! Like every other stupid Chinese person?

NISHA: Tell me what happened.

YVETTE: Competition. Undercut. 

2.

NISHA’s office. YVETTE is vacuum cleaning. NISHA’s working. 

NISHA: The paradigm is shifting. Dr Graeme Hartley. The new CEO. Level 21. Upstairs.

YVETTE: You complain.

NISHA: You clean.

YVETTE: Your friend is in your office.

NISHA: My colleague. Tom Budd. Marketing Director. He hired me, once upon a time.

YVETTE: Tom pick up book.

NISHA: Financial Equilibrium: Finding Peace with Numbers. By Dr Graeme Hartley.

YVETTE: [As TOM.] “Dr Graeme Hartley’s management textbook guides us through his theories of ‘modest innovation’, and the need to temper big ideas with pragmatism.”

NISHA: An American academic running Golden Fields? Tom, he’s one month into the gig and he’s downsized out of the exec suite. And he’s getting rid of the fountain on Level 21. The week I had that fountain installed up there, IGA met with us and, boom, they were gagging to give us third-shelf placement for all of the east coast. 

YVETTE: [As TOM.] Because of a thirty-thousand dollar fountain?

NISHA: Because of me. Because I pay attention to the fucking details.

YVETTE: [As TOM.] Interior decorating?

NISHA: [Pause.] Give me that book.

YVETTE: [As TOM.] Oh come on, Gupta. I’m just making a dad joke, I’m 43, I’ve got kids, it’s my God-given right to.

NISHA: The book.

YVETTE: [As TOM.] Ok ok, here. I was just holding onto it so the cleaner could wipe, do her job. You know Gupta, if you keep this lying around he’s going to think you’re his fan.

NISHA: Of course I want Graeme to think I’m a fangirl. You should get your own copy. Get him to sign it. Let him think you’re his little bitch. He’s shrinking your marketing budgets for the next quarter. You know that, right?

YVETTE: [As TOM.] You kidding me?

NISHA: Graeme had me go over the sums. The Board doesn’t bring in a fiscal conservative without already putting targets on people’s backs.

YVETTE: [As TOM.] But you’re my EO mole, you champion every cent I spend. 

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