James Elazzi is a Sydney writer, described by award-winning director Dino Dimitriadis as “a powerful and vital new voice in Australian playwriting.”

“With humour and pathos he delves deep into culture, unafraid of the prickly questions and conversations,” Dimitriadis says.

Elazzi’s latest play, Lady Tabouli, was a sell-out success at Griffin Theatre Company’s BATCH Festival in 2019. Elazzi is a member of Sydney Theatre Company’s 2019-2020 Emerging Writers Group and his next play will arrive on stage in Sydney later in the year.

Right now, Elazzi’s Lady Tabouli is finishing its season at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres, in a production by National Theatre of Parramatta as part of Sydney Festival 2020. Directed by Dimitriadis, it’s a story of a young gay Lebanese Australian man revealing his sexuality to his religious family and the repercussions that flow from that revelation.

Theatre People asked Elazzi about his inspiration to write Lady Tabouli.

“I think it’s a collection of things that I’ve been through in my life, and that people around me who I love have been through,” he says. “The themes that I talk about in the show are rarely ever spoken about … A lot of people just don’t want to tread those waters.”

Asked about the show’s narrative, Elazzi says: “Really, it’s about family … If we are true to ourselves, what do we lose in the process, and are we going to lose that forever? What are we willing to let go of in our lives, in order to live our absolute truth? I think a lot of people don’t live their truth, which is a shame. Lady Tabouli is about living your truth, and what the stakes are and how high the stakes are in doing that.”

James Elazzi at opening night of National Theatre of Parramatta’s Lady Tabouli at Riverside Theatres

As well as directing Lady Tabouli (both its current season and the production last year at Griffin Theatre), Dimitriadis led and co-produced Elazzi’s Omar and Dawn, which had its world premiere at KXT in 2019.

“I love working with Dino,” Elazzi says. “I think that he understands my message, he understands my scripts and what I want to say … He’s absolutely driven, and I love that because I’m very driven, and he’s very disciplined and I’m very disciplined. I think I’ve met someone as a director that really gets it and understands it and is unashamed to bring out those things that people rarely talk about or are afraid to bring up … He’s a superstar, I think he’s so talented.”

Playing the lead role of Danny in Lady Tabouli is Antony Makhlouf, who also took the lead in Omar and Dawn at KXT. Elazzi believes Makhlouf is “one of the brightest new actors to pop up in Sydney.”

“In terms of the stories that I’m [telling], he’s able to interrogate that character, digest it and really put himself in that character”, says Elazzi. “I think that he studies the characters so well, and it’s sometimes so scary because I feel like he is actually living, for the time of the season, as that character … He’s also a very disciplined actor; he works incredibly hard and I’ve no doubt that he’s got a great future ahead of him.”

Almost straight after the season ends, Elazzi will move on to work on his next play, Son of Byblos, which will be presented by Brave New Word, as part of Belvoir’s third 25A season. Directed by Nisrine Amine (who plays Josephine in Lady Tabouli), its run commences on 8 July.

“That’s a really special piece , as well,” Elazzi says. “It’s a very personal piece.”

And what does he hope audiences take away from their experience seeing Lady Tabouli?

“My hope is to have a conversation about what it means to come from a family,” he says. “My hope is also to examine unconditional love and what it is. Are we all able to unconditionally love the people that we’re supposed to, and what happens when we don’t? It’s a reality that people are not loved unconditionally.”


Remaining shows:
Saturday 18 January 2020 at 2:30pm and 7:45pm
Venue: Riverside Theatres (Corner of Church and Market Streets, Parramatta)
Tickets: Adult $59; Concession $55.
Bookings: online here or from the box office on (02) 8839 3399
Discounts available for Riverside Theatres’ Members
Transaction fees: phone $4.60, web $3.60 and counter $2.60