BWW REVIEW: The Coming Out Story In A Society Not Commonly Seen On Stage Is Considered In LADY TABOULI
Saturday 11th January 2020, 7:45pm, Lennox Theatre, Riverside Parramatta
James Elazzi's LADY TABOULI makes its world premiere as part of The National Theatre Of Parramatta's 2020 Sydney Festival program. Under Dino Dimitriadis' direction, the audience are given a glimpse into life in a Lebanese Australian family that is about to have its chaotic world turned upside down.
Drawing on his own background as a Lebanese Australian, up and coming playwright James Elazzi presents what initially appears to be a domestic comedy about a Lebanese Australian family preparing for the christening of daughter Josephine's (Nisrine Amine) 8 month old baby Charbel. Centering around Josephine's mother Dana's (Deborah Galanos) home where brother Danny (Antony Makhlouf) has recently moved back in, the two generations, joined by Dana's brother Mark (Johnny Nasser) prepare for the event which, according to Josephine, has to outdo her 'friends' and must be the prime focus of the manic morning but nothing seems to be going to plan. The kitchen is chaotic with an ongoing speakerphone call from an Aunt in Lebanon, a shortage of blue flowers for the gift parcels of sugared almonds that arent the blue on the shopping list, random grooming diversions and a breakfast of anytime salad Tabouli until the ultimate bombshell explodes in the form of a phone call from Danny's ex-fiancé's mother with a revelation that the family want to pass of as spite as much as Danny says they are true.
Production designer Jonathan Hindmarsh has created a wonderfully detailed set with an intriguing balance of creating the world of the Boustanis family home and still retaining reminders that these are scenes playing out with road boxes, ladders and clothes racks bordering the raised stage platforms. The costuming is kept relatively simple as a contemporary story of a regular family with the flourish of glamour for the vision of Lebanese "Diva of Music" Sabah (Johnny Nasser) whose music Danny finds comfort in. Benjamin Brockman's lighting design, suspended from a rig that matches the angled stage, incorporates an effective 'wave' of LED lights more commonly seen in concerts to convey time transitions whilst other lighting conveys the transition of time as the light through unseen blinds draws longer and longer shadows across the saloon.
The domestic scenes of LADY TABOULI are laugh out loud funny and have so much going on that the audience often picks up on different amusing elements, from the reminders of the forgotten phone call to Dana's insistence that in amongst the madness she must bless the house with incense and holy water and the constant bickering and bossing. Regardless of the audience's heritage there are elements that are relatable, from the sibling squabbles, the disbelief that outdated ideas on boys and girls' colors still prevail, and the desire for one-upmanship to show off to the rest of the community. The tone changes with the revealing phone call, highlighting the family focus and inability to recognize the important issues. Whilst it isnt necessarily presenting a groundbreaking new take on the coming out story, it more importantly allows a sector of society to see themselves on stage and hopefully let people know they arent alone if they are seeing their stories and challenges presented. There are moments of absurdity and disappointment in humanity but there is also hope that even if the older generation may be stuck in their ways, the younger generation may be more accepting and understanding.
It is good to see the wider Sydney community represented in Australian theatre and hopefully those that can relate more closely to LADY TABOULI will come out and experience theatre and support this new work. LADY TABOULI entertains and enlightens, giving people an insight into the Lebanese Australian lifestyle, whilst also hopefully enlightening a community that appears to still have a way to go in breaking down prejudice and fear.
Photos: Robert Catto