By James Elazzi
Directed by Dino Dimitriadis
A Riverside National Theatre of Parramatta and Sydney Festival Production
Riverside National Theatre
Cnr Market and Church Streets
Season: 9 – 18 January 2020. Bookings: https://riversideparramatta.com.au
Duration: 90 minutes. No interval
The key ingredient of any Tabouli salad is parsley – plenty of it and finely chopped, thank you. But when your home-grown garden supply starts to discolour and turn yellow, what do you do? Try to salvage what you have left and nurture it back to its natural green or pull the lot out and start again?
Of course, this is a metaphorical question which playwright James Elizzi cleverly raises in his new play ‘Lady Tabouli’. His central character Danny is the ‘parsley’ in mother Dana’s ‘garden’ and unfortunately for the wider family, Danny chooses to ‘come out’ on the day of his nephew’s christening. A time when no one wants to discuss the matter, leaving Danny exposed, humiliated and deeply lost.
The vehicle for telling this story is an Australian family of Lebanese heritage where cultural ties to the ‘old country’ are still active and Christian beliefs and traditions are tightly guarded. It’s the Middle East meets permissive West; where the generation gap highlights changing sexual morality; where religious sensibilities concerning ‘sinfulness’ are examined; and where family bonds are tested to breaking point.
Part of the appeal of this play is the authenticity of its characters. Nisrine Amine plays Josephine, the headstrong, proud and determined young mum trying to make her son’s christening day an outstanding success. She’s paid $500 on the christening gown and wants the decorative almonds prepared perfectly. Her brother Danny is to be the godfather, no matter what news he has for the family.
In the role of Dana, the mother, is Deborah Galanos. She is the matriarch; strong-willed and staunchly religious. Dana is a meticulous housekeeper, even going an extra step by spraying furniture and ornaments with holy water. Her newly acquired statue of the Virgin Mary dominates the salon and she boasts the “Tabouli is the only salad blessed by Christ”. She tackles problems head on and hopes that direct ultimatums will bring Danny to a fresh understanding.
Johnny Nassar performs as Mark and Sabah. Mark is Dana’s brother and has been a father-figure to Josephine and Danny since their father died. He’s a pragmatist and has always been respected by Danny. How he offers counsel to Danny is revealing in more ways than one. Sabah is a real-life Lebanese singer-performer who Danny conjures in his mind to help him process the family situation.
Antony Makhlouf brings passion to the role of Danny. Recently separated from his wife, Danny is ‘outed’ indirectly by his mother in law. He then embraces the opportunity to involve the family in his lifetime secret lifestyle but soon realises their focus today is on the newborn’s baptism. His confession challenges everyone to self-examine their own lives, with surprising outcomes.
James Elizzi’s dialogue and style is snappy, humorous and dramatic. With splendid direction from Dino Dimitriadis, this one-day family snapshot is great to watch. The production team have shown excellence in set design, sound, lighting and costumes.
The hope of James Elizzi in writing ‘Lady Tabouli’ is “to explore what can happen to unconditional love when it’s pushed to the limit”. For a play that deals with sexual diversity, choice and acceptance, ‘Lady Tabouli’ achieves its goal and found enthusiastic endorsement from the audience.