Part of the 2015 Melbourne Jewish Writers Festival line – up, ‘Theatrics’, directed by Gary Abrahams, is subtitled ‘The wit and wisdom of Jewish Literature.
Abrahams’ presentation is a collection of ten carefully selected short essays and stories, exploring both the historical and contemporary Jewish experience.
With a two hour running time, his vision is brought to life by the veteran acting quartet of Christopher Brown, Luisa Hastings Edge, Deidre Rubenstein and Michael Veitch. Adding a wistful and moving undercurrent to the overall tone of the evening, expert guitar and vocal accompaniment is provided by Adam Starr.
Simply executed with few props or visual cues, it is via this talented group that the show’s series of academic character studies, their delineation and continuity, are sharply defined and detailed.
Adding to the production’s understated perspective, some soft suburban lounge furniture, four paper floor lamps, and four bar stools mark the quintet’s performance space. Lighting by Bronwyn Pringle and stage management by Stephen Moylan, aptly support the understated, respectful mood.
As Abrahams himself states in the program notes, “Reading is an intimate action, as private as our dreams, and a difficult experience to communicate to others. The question I always ask myself when looking at adapting literature is, what can a performance add to it?”
Various well – known local and international writers have been chosen to specify Abrahams’ point. The works (performed in the order listed) are:
• Kalooki Nights by Howard Jacobson
• Home by Serge Liberman
• The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer
• Missing Kissinger by Etgar Keret
• The Ancient Mariner by Arnold Zable
• Mr Wilkinson by Alex Skovron
• Nazi by Maria Tumarkin
• Truly Madly Guiltily by Ayelet Waldman
• Mother by Grace Paley
• The Reader by Nathan Englander
Whether it is about a hormonal boy’s right of passage when his mother hilariously decides to throw him a Kalooki instead of a traditional Bah mitzvah, an elderly woman’s life – changing decision to move to Australia, a hapless man torn between his girlfriend’s and mother’s devotion, or a young mum’s confession about loving her husband more than her kids, every tale is complex and thought provoking in its own way.
Each performer displayed great range, with the mix of works allowing them opportunities to play either broad comedy or heart – wrenching drama. Rubenstein in The Ancient Mariner, Hastings Edge in Truly Madly Guiltily, Brown in Missing Kissinger, and Veitch in The Reader, were all particular highlights.
What appears to link all of the stories together is a shared sense of identity, place and home.
Given the source material, it makes sense that ‘Theatrics’ set – up is like an open – book reading. However, that the actors carry scripts does not impede communicating each story’s power, interacting with one another, or indeed building rapport with the audience.
‘Theatrics’ is an important and worthy journey worth taking.