Belvoir presents ATLANTIS, by Lally Katz, in the Upstairs Belvoir St Theatre, Surry Hills. November 1 - November 26.
ATLANTIS is a new Australian play by Lally Katz. It is a heady hilarious piece of a type of magic realism. I loved it.
The principal character in ATLANTIS is called Lally (played by Amber McMahon). The last time I met this 'Lally' was in Joe's Pub, a Cabaret venue in the Public Theatre in New York, where she was played by the real Lally (Katz) in her monologue called: STORIES I WANT TO TELL YOU IN PERSON - she had already given these stories at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne and the Downstairs Theatre at Belvoir. In that performance piece 'Lally' is concerned with dealing with her Melbourne 'full Jew' (defining herself as only a 'half Jew') and escaping to New Jersey to see her grandparents, and having adventures in New York - where she meets/employs a Psychic called 'Cookie' who she feels has subsequently cursed her. ATLANTIS begins with 'Lally' dealing with Dave (who, one may presume to be her 'full Jew' - played by Matthew Whittet), and her consequent journey back to New York to visit her grandparents before they die, and to find "Cookie' to negotiate her dilemma - her cursed ovaries!!!! and her ticking biological clock.
In the Upstairs Theatre, after a little talk with Lally, Dave wanting to get to sleep, turns on the the television to the noise of Alex Jones, a US conspiracy theorist and podcaster, noted for his 'ranting' - e.g. climate change et al. While, presumably, Dave has been lulled to sleep, 'Lally' looks at us, the audience:
Hi, everyone, I'm Lally Katz. I'm a playwright and I wrote this play. I know I should give a disclaimer to stop me from being sued and say that it's a work of fiction and none of the characters are based on real people. But to be honest, almost everything in it is true and absolutely every character in it is based on a real person. [...].We begin a Four Act journey of fact/fiction then, the first act dealing with her relationship with Dave and the following three on her new adventures in the USA. We leave Sydney and go to New York, New Jersey, Kansas, Miami and Las Vegas to many locations that come and go quickly. Many are interiors, such as a psychic consultation room, apartments - including a dodgy airbnb - chemists, cars/taxis, shops, bedrooms and doctor's surgeries. Some are exteriors such as streets, mountains, highways, oceans. Wow! some challenge. As Ms Katz's wishes in her published text: "Good Luck" to the production team!
This production of ATLANTIS has had more than luck, it has had inspiration: Set and Costume Designer, Jonathan Oxlade, with supporting shadowy surreal lighting by Damien Cooper, provide a 'playground'/'landscape' of whimsical architectural shapes, furnishings and colours for Director, Rosemary Myers, to marshall and inspire her five actors: Paula Arundell, Lucia Mastrantone, Hazem Shammas and Matthew Whittet - creating some 42 characters - encountering Amber McMahon, as Lally, the central figure of the play, with an hilarious and inventive Composition and Sound Design by Harry Covill to join the dots in the journey and keep it all moving along.
Joining Lally on this journey is all a bit like joining Alice on her Wonderland trip (in this case with a Panther instead of a Rabbit or Cheshire Cat). Katz's ATLANTIS is an escalating magical mystery trip of growing absurdity that is truly hilarious and still, yet, a deeply empathetic experience as Lally, like the Billie Piper character, Her, in the recently broadcast (at the movies) Young Vic production of YERMA, is worrying about her ovaries and reproductive age, and yearns to have a child. She pursues that need with a desperation that grows, in this case, quite differently in tone to that Simon Stone version, into a comic mono-manic adventure which causes her to ignore the world that is falling apart around her.
Her biological clock is ringing warning bells! Time for herself is the essence. The play spins out into a surrealist comic poem of whimsy and fantasy that ends up with the love-making of Lally with her childhood daemon, a Panther, and at Caesar's Palace at the 4pm performance of the Fall of Atlantis: "It is not too late. We're both still here. We're both still alive. There's still hope." Ms Katz, the writer, shares something of herself with the world, her wacky imagination, and has us laughing so much that we can for the brief time we spend with her, forget the world and its present chaos and scariness, and allow a sliver of hope that all can/will be well.
The simple joy of the surprising imaginative logic of Ms Katz's world is beautifully brought to life with a team of actors with a truly gifted sense of mayhem and skill. Amber McMahon is the central figure that barrels through the adventures of this amazing character with a lightweight élan, effortlessness, that has all the innocence of the classic 'hero' figures of great comedy (Chaplin, Lucy, even Marge in the Simpsons, at their ingenuous best). The role requires stamina and infectious optimism, qualities that Ms McMahon radiates unequivocally from start to finish through every 'hoop' of 'madness' that Ms Katz can devise. She is the spine of this work and it is as joyfully flexible as any you could wish.
While the other four actors are simply brilliantly articulate in the creation of their roles. Paula Arundell once again demonstrates her finesse: her capability to translate Electra the 'dodgy' airbnb hostess, from a breathless comic rant and, yet, bring it to a truly moving pathetic statement of a life of the desperate, is – as usual – astounding. She does it again at the end of the play with a short portrait (less than a page and a half of text!) of a mum dressed in Cowgirl gear in Las Vegas - funny, and still, whimsically sad. Add her ebullient comic presence in two of her 'moustache' roles - the leader of an evangelical choir, or the 'Cuban man', to see a rare gift that is an example of great acting. To see her is to believe in the 'genius' of performance art (and craft). (When are we to see her in a central role of import - a Hedda, a Mother Courage, a Phaedra?) But similarly, in this production, Lucia Mastrantone scores with her Taxi drivers and the hilarious Bella, the New York 'psychic'/shonk. While Matthew Whittet, skewers his portrait of the 'awful' Dave and as the far from insouciant daughter of Bella, along with other duties with careful on-the-edge insight. Hazem Shammas is outrageous as the sexy gigolo, Diego, in the desert town motel and manages to ooze a comic pathos fully out-fitted from head-to-toe in a black panther costume with glowing eyes.
I loved the play, and reading some other people's response to the show, I appear to be getting onto Lally Katz's 'bus' with her unique writing for the theatre, especially within the Australian oeuvre, as other's are getting off. But I reckon, whatever you make of the playwriting, the ticket price is worth the joy of seeing five very, very, very excellent performances, conjured by Director, Rosemary Myers.
I encourage you to go. Go to laugh and you will be suspended in a two hour or so pleasure space at Belvoir - it has been a long time, for me, between such stuff at Belvoir.