BWW Review: GREY ROCK at The Coopers Malthouse, Merlyn Theatre
Grey Rock invites Australian audiences to discover how a Palestinian man's dream to build and launch a rocket to the moon from his small village in the West Bank affects his family and community. Commissioned and produced by Remote Theater Project, in association with the non-profit organisation GOH Productions, Grey Rock premiered at La MaMa Theater in New York City earlier this year. Last week it was presented for 5 performances in the Merlyn Theatre, at The Coopers Malthouse as part of The 2019 Melbourne International Arts Festival.
Written and directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi, Grey Rock is by no means a play specifically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is a story about relationships and dreams. While occupation is of course referred to throughout the play to give contextual clarity, Zuabi in an interview to The New York Times explains the play is "An invitation to peek into who we really are".
The dream of building a rocket to fly to the moon is a clever metaphor that is used by Zuabi to create a strong link between American and Palestinian cultures. While the US Space Program is not nearly as relatable for an Australian audience as it is with an American audience, we still get the general idea.
When the protagonist Yusuf starts behaving in a secretive manner, his friends and family start to suspect the activities in his workshop are sinister. Upon discovery that Yusuf is actually building a space rocket to fly to the moon, bewilderment sets in and the play explores how this affects Yusuf's relationship with his daughter, Lila and her fiancee Jawad.
All of the five actors are Palestinian, which brings an unarguable authenticity and honesty to the play. Khalifa Natour as Yusuf and Fidaa Zaidan as his daughter Lila give strong and sincere performances. What is most impressive from all the actors is while Arabic is their native tongue, the play is written and performed in English. This decision may be deemed unusual by some for a work which is so grounded in its cultural roots. In my opinion it is a wise choice to help make the play more relatable for both the original American and new Australian audiences. The fact all actors portray clear and articulate character intentions throughout the evening, despite performing in a different language, is a true credit to their craftsmanship.
Subtle microphone amplification would have helped heighten the actors performances in a big venue like the Merlyn Theatre. This would have allowed the vocal performances to be clear and articulate for those seated at the very back of the theatre, not just those in the front.
The minimalist set, designed by Tal Yarden is extremely effective in transforming the stage into multiple different locations by using a cleverly designed diagonal wall made of layered material. The texture of this wall transforms throughout the performance under Muaz Jubeh's excellent lighting design.
The Remote Theater Project prides itself on being able to ''Bring theatre artists who are isolated either geographically or politically to New York City to develop new work, tour internationally and have their voices heard outside the confines of their region." In their commission of Grey Rock, they have certainly lived up to their vision.