|Photo by Natasha Narula
THE LADEN TABLE, a new Australian play by six women: Yvonne Perczuk, Nur Alam, Ray Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernaghan and Ruth Kliman.
Through the curtains that separate the theatre space in the Kings Cross Hotel from the foyer, one could see a beautiful table setting for a group of 12 people. (Set Design, by Courtney Westbrook).The table was laden with all the accruements necessary to have a communal, celebratory meal. When the Play began, candles were lit and a warm atmosphere of welcoming enveloped the space. (Lighting, by Benjamin Brockman). Progressively each of the 'guests' arrived.
This play started evolving some nine years ago:
Yvonne (Perczuk) was dining with friends and the conversation took a disturbing turn to remarks about 'All Muslims...'. She soon discovered from her Muslim colleagues that similar comments were being made at their dinner tables about "All Jews...'. And so began the long journey to confront this kind of dinner table racism that exists right here in Sydney, through the transformative power of theatre. ... It was uplifting to see all these people with opposing views and beliefs, some wearing hijabs and others wearing yarmulkahs, sitting together in the same room, sharing their stories and ideas on the script, allowing the play to become a living thing, growing and evolving with their input." bAKEHOUSE came on board in 2014 and "After 3 years of dramaturgical development. 2 periods of script development and 2 public presentations THE LADEN TABLE, can be experienced by a live audience in the KXT.Directed by Suzanne Millar, it is an exciting - thrilling - time, for not only is this table literally laden with food goodies, the occasion of sitting around this table is also laden with confrontational ideas, argument and deep emotional revelations of faith and human concern. At the heart of this play is a great passion.
It's a special night for two Australian families. Jacob's family is attending to the ritual of Yom Kippur; Ibrahim's family is celebrating Eid. At this laden communal table the two families, in different houses, at a different time, are sitting, and without acknowledging each other, we the audience watch the interactions between the generations of each of the families.
At each of the dinners we meet three generations of a family. In the Jewish family, Abe Fishman (Geoff Sirmai), a survivor of the Holocaust, who cannot forget, presides over his son, Jacob's (Donald Sword) and wife, Esti's (Abi Rayment) celebratory meal, in the presence of the next generation of Jewish children who identify as Australian: Daughter Ruth (Jessica Paterson) - a doctor recently returned from a stint in Israel; Daniella (Justina Ward) and young family friend Nathan Gutman (Doron Chester). In the Muslim household, Zainab Ka'adan (Gigi Sawires), a survivor of Nakba, the 1948 Palestinian exodus, who cannot forget, presides over her son's, Ibrahim Ka'adan (Monroe Reimers) and daughter-in law's, Nadya's ( Suz Mawer) celebratory meal, in the presence of the next generation of children who identify as Australian: Mousa Ka'adan (Mansoor Noor) - an engineer, recently returned from a work stint in Haifa, Israel; his younger sister, Yasmina (Sarah Meacham), and a Christian family friend, Zac Thomas (Alex Chalwell).
This grouping allows conversation and exchange of generational feelings to burst uninhibitly into the space of the theatre. On both sides, the juxtaposed dinner conversations are powerful and could be offensive in any other situation. The conventions of the dramaturgy brilliantly facilitates a dreadful 'violence' of family evolutions within the cultural and religious practice of each family, who are trying to make sense and find a way to living within the modern world. It is a wonderfully bracing experience that combines difference of opinion with respectful traditions and the basic human operative of love.
Both families are finally confronted with an issue that will test their principles and values: Doctor Ruth and Engineer Mousa, have met and created a pregnancy, from a love. Their return home brings a burden to these tables. "Two households, both alike in dignity" are laden with a contemporary personal and family crisis.
The writing is extraordinary, the Direction extremely certain and the performances from all 12 actors convincing and heart felt. Mansoor Noor is especially alive and layered with complexity, as is Jessica Paterson, at the centre of this family drama.
I recommend this play and production. It is the kind of play that rarely finds its way to exposure in Sydney - that it has 12 actors, which seems to be the boundary of the major professional company productions in Sydney, is one reason why it may never had got past the 'gatekeepers', 'bean counters' of our professional stages.
12 actors in a new Australian play, too much risk! Too costly, never mind the social/cultural importance of the content. And, if that is the case, what other works are we missing out on?
THE LADEN TABLE has had nine years of development and that strength of tussle and longevity of gestation is evident at every layer of result in its twistings and turnings. Last year the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) produced the American play DISGRACED that rocked the local Sydney audience, as it had done Internationally, with contemporary social/cultural resonances. THE LADEN TABLE, a local Australian play has similar, if not, more resonances for us today. Nothing Australian of similar quality or subject matter has appeared on either, the STC or Belvoir stages for some time. The bAKEHOUSE production at KXT should be a destination for you.
bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company have gradually built a reputation for committed work to complicated and community oriented work. Last year, they presented BLACK JESUS, a play bringing us to the complications of a startling African story, and previously, HIS MOTHER'S VOICE, a play delving into the world of China. Suzanne Millar and John Harrison quietly developing work of great importance and ethical concern - attention should be paid to THE LADEN TABLE.
Do not miss this show.
P.S. It is interesting that I have just read a review of a new New York play, IF I FORGET, by Steven Leveson, that seems to be an echo to the concerns of this work, THE LADEN TABLE. The international zeitgeist strikes.