James Elazzi is an Australian playwright of Lebanese heritage. Recently, he was announced as one of four new members of Sydney Theatre Company’s Emerging Writers Group. Last year, his play Omar and Dawn was selected for inclusion in bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company’s Storytellers Festival at Kings Cross Theatre. Now, the world premiere production of that play has opened to audiences at the same venue, presented by Apocalypse Theatre and Green Door Theatre Company, in association with bAKEHOUSE.
Elazzi’s piece tells the story of Omar (Antony Makhlouf), a teenager who is a first-generation Lebanese Muslim Australian and has been in and out of foster homes. He is now placed in the home of an 80-year-old woman, Dawn (Maggie Blinco), who has long provided care. Initially, it seems the chance that the two will be able to co-exist in the same space is remote, given Omar’s rock-hard intransigence.
The story of Omar’s entry into the system is a tragic one, but he finds himself in a more secure situation than his best friend, Ahmed (Mansoor Noor), who has been kicked out of home by his family because he is gay. For some time now, he’s been living under a bridge and surviving as a sex-worker. He lives in hope that his brother and father will change their minds and invite him to return home.
Omar and Dawn is about the universal craving for family and a reminder that while many will find that need fulfilled by the members of the families into which they were born, others will have to forge relationships and support from the families that they create, which may take a variety of forms. It’s a gritty and confronting story that highlights the all-too-easy descent from safety and stability to isolation and life on the streets, as well as the ongoing battles members of the LGBTQ community continue to fight. But it also questions the irreparability of deep wounds and implies that, even in the darkest of situations, there is hope and a chance to come back from the brink.
The story unfolds in this 80-minute production, directed by award-winner Dino Dimitriadis (who led the outstanding 2019 staging of Angels in America at the Old Fitz). It’s a riveting and moving presentation that affords us a window into the losses its characters have suffered, how those experiences manifest in ongoing behaviour, and how difficult it can be to move on from such trauma. The devastation of family disconnection for the Lebanese community is canvassed here in a particularly powerful way.
The set by Aleisa Jelbart is simple but effective. Aided by Benjamin Brockman’s great use of lights, it takes us from Dawn’s kitchen, to the bridge under which Ahmed finds shelter, to the mechanics business run by Dawn’s brother, Darren (Lex Marinos). Remaining centre stage for the entire show is the kitchen table – an enduring symbol of family gathering. It represents precisely what each of these characters craves and needs. Sound Designer Ben Pierpont’s underscoring of events is thoughtful and highly appropriate throughout; the sound effectively enhances a sense of the harshness of the reality that confronts the characters.
There are strong performances all round. Blinco is perfect in her portrayal of the open-handed and tenacious foster caregiver, who finds family and purpose in those to whom she offers a second chance at life. Makhlouf is wonderful as Omar, who arrives at Dawn’s home insolent and volatile, embodying the toll the events of his life to date have taken. We watch as his outlook changes with glimpses of possibility over time. Noor’s performance as Ahmed is heartbreaking. His is a character so deeply wounded by the state of isolation his family has forced upon him, while tightly clinging to the notion his exile is only temporary. And Marinos is well cast as Dawn’s seemingly hardened younger brother, battling demons of his own.
Omar and Dawn is an impressive text from a new Australian voice, afforded a memorable and compelling debut production by Dimitriadis and a skilled group of actors. It’s exciting when new writers get the opportunity to have their works performed, especially when they’re telling stories as real and as poignant as this one.
OMAR AND DAWN – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre, Kings Cross Hotel, 242-248 William Street, Kings Cross
Season: Playing now until July 27 2019
Times: Tuesday – Saturday: 7:30pm; Sundays: 5:00pm