Part of the MTC’s Education program, I Call My Brothers contains strong themes ripe for analysis, however Swedish playwright Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s script offers less for audiences simply looking for a thought-provoking night at the theatre.
Khemiri’s script is built around one idea and uses stylistic tricks – such as switching between first and third person narration, present and past tense settings – to develop intrigue around the premise. We follow a day in the life of Amor (Osamah Sami), a middle-eastern immigrant, who through a phone call from his former best mate Shavi (Ray Chong Nee) is informed that a car bomb has exploded in the city and possibly that the person responsible bears a resemblance to him.
Amor ‘calls his brothers’ and is advised that he should stay at home and lay low, but a responsibility to get a new drill head at the hardware store sees him ignore the advice and put himself in the middle of the hot zone for police investigating the terror attack. This situation offers most possibility for analysis in the script as we gain insight into Amor’s state of mind, a state that many who are also of middle-eastern appearance in the same situation would share – one of paranoia and misplaced guilt.
Nadja Kostich’s direction does little to clear up Khemiri’s obscure plotline. It’s difficult to tell what is actually happening and what is Amor’s paranoid delusion, but perhaps that’s the point. Stylistic production design from Marg Horwell (Set and Costume), Rachel Burke (Lighting), Darrin Verhagen (Sound) and Michael Carmody (Video) brings welcome atmosphere and artistry, but also adds no clarity to the meandering plot.
Nice supporting performances from Alice Ansara as Amor’s cousin Ahlem and Joana Pires as the object of his affection, Valeria, add colour to the piece and provide some welcome comic relief as we get to see Amor’s amusing interactions with his friends and family. Osamah Sami as Amor has a wonderfully genuine warmth that makes him endearing pretty much through the entire play, even when it seems there’s a chance he may have somehow been involved in the event that is the cause of the spotlight of suspicion being shone upon his innocent activities.
The treatment Amor receives when trying to gain assistance at the hardware store gives further insight into what it can be like for people of ethnic minorities – especially those suspected of terrorist behaviours – to go about their business when the world wishes to do them no favours.
With an abstract and sparse set design to reflect the abstract and disconnected script, this simple production relies upon stylish treatment from lighting, sound and video to bring it over the line and certainly achieves an admirable level of artistry. Just like its protagonist though, this production isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it’s pleasing to know that its themes are being considered by our VCE students.