|Photo by Robert Catto|
OMAR AND DAWN, is a new Australian play by James Elazzi.
Dawn (Maggie Blinco) is an 80 year old widow, and following the death of her son, is living alone in a three bedroom home, who has made it her civic duty to foster care young adults living under stress. It gives her a life challenge. She has a brother, Darren (Lex Marinos) who runs a garage and feels that Dawn ought to consider moving into care herself. Her latest responsibility is Omar (Antony Makhlouf), a young seventeen year old man of Lebanese/Australian and Muslim background from a broken family, who because of his 'gay' predilections has been exiled from his community. Carrying a deep rage at the world he lives in, his only true companion is Ahmed (Mansoor Noor), and together they have survived on the streets as sex-workers 'serving', mostly, married men 'under the bridge'.
James Elassi, a writer from the Western suburbs of Sydney, is claiming space as a voice for the marginalised Lebanese Muslim culture - especially of the sexual outsiders - and courageously has determined to tell stories that he has observed in his world with an uncompromising truth. It is unusual to have central to the narrative these young men and an older woman who has a toughness equal to anything that Omar, especially, can confront her with. Dawn can give Omar as good as he can give - there is on the KXT stage the meeting of an irresistible force and an immoveable object. Something will have to give.
The work is much like the output of Patricia Cornelius in that the world brought to the stage is that of an underclass of our society rarely examined, but unlike Ms Cornelius, looks at a masculine concentration, whereas she has focused, mostly, on the feminine crises.
DAWN AND OMAR, is an eighty minute play of many, many short scenes - it seems more a tele-play or screenplay (most scenes are no longer than 3-4 minutes) than a work for the theatre - and shifts into many locations. The language is an argot of relentless profanity fuelled by the blind rage of the young men: sharp, blunt and ugly and without the poetry of the Cornelius output that helps to make her texts palatable without reducing their challenge.
The physical setting designed by Alesi Jelbart, has created a raised platform covered in gravel, with a central kitchen table and chairs, and a refrigerator and locker to store the properties when needed, with stools in the corner edges. Because of the dramaturgical structure of the playwriting, the Director, Dino Dimitriadis, has had to find a method to keep the stage action fluid, and as the work is essentially naturalistic with props - food and liquids - has had to accomodate the shifts from kitchen to a commercial garage to the sex refuge 'under the bridge', and has done so by creating a feature of the scene changes accompanied by a repetitive drone (Sound by Ben Pierpoint), that has a tempo effect that is glacial in its command, under mood Lighting shifts from Benjamin Brockman.
This is not the first work of Mr Elassi's that I have seen and OMAR AND DAWN is consistent in his 'missionary' zeal of subject matter concerns. All the work is posed in this cinematic scene length and is ultimately the main source of difficulty for maintaining an audience's concentration in the theatre.
Maggie Blinco, as Dawn, is a glowing presence radiating a lived life of trials and tribulations determined to make a positive contribution while she can - stubborn, compassionate and fearless - the performance full of subtle detail to build a 'heroine' role model of gracious humanity in the cruel world of old age and cultural poverty. Lex Marinos provides support as Darren, both, to irascible Dawn and explosive Omar.
The problem of the production is the offers from Antony Makhlouf, as Omar, which is mostly manufactured from the rage of the young man that has little variation of intensity - it is fierce, almost psychotic in its flarings. The performance is limited, there is little range or breadth of other qualities, with little or no nuance to give an audience a reason to have empathy for Omar's position. This is especially obvious as Mansoor Noor in the supporting role of Ahmed, in contrast to Mr Makhlouf's offers, has been able to create not only the exterior of the man but also insight to the motivating interior, that invites the audience to identify and engage with his character's dilemma. It is a performance that is consistent with his other work: e.g. THE LADEN TABLE, an STUPID FUCKING BIRD. A very interesting actor.
That Mr Elassi is an alternate voice revealing lives in the Australian community rarely seen is to be encouraged. But the dramaturgical demands of the theatre play needs more attention - I long to see a scene longer than 3 minutes, a one act structure, perhaps, and a more sophisticated vocabulary usage, so that the repetitive expressive pattern of the pain of his principal character has more nuance (the poetry achieved in the writing in the intimate seen between Omar and Ahmed, late in the play, needs to be heard more often). Too, this production of the play needs a more skilful performer at its centre or otherwise the experience could become what some might call, in its intensive relentless concentration and language haranguing, 'misery porn'. It sometimes felt like that.