Two Jews walk into a theatre. The title of this sublime theatre show was doubly misleading. Firstly, it suggested to me a light hour of comedy. Maybe two Jewish comedians doing a bit of stand-up. That’s somewhat my fault. There are many great Jewish comics, but that’s not what I came to see this night.
Brian is an actor, designer and director who grew up performing experimental theatre in England, before settling in Australia. Gideon has won awards as choreographer of contemporary dance. The kind of dance that might seem robotic and weird. Incomprehensible if not provocative. Well, that’s the biased opinions we hear from critics that know the performers better than anyone. Their dads. Which leads to the second misconception – there are four, not two, Jewish men in this play. Brian, Gideon and their two fathers.
This is the setup: the fictitious encounter of two Jewish fathers, sitting in the foyer of the North Melbourne Town Hall. Both here to see their sons on stage. It starts with light witty banter, remarking on how disproportionately small the foyer is for the spacious hall. Funny mainly because that is exactly I had been thinking being crammed standing outside, minutes before, waiting to take my seat. They move easily into anecdotes involving their own parents and their children, whom chose lives as artists which would be impossible if not inconceivable for their parents: migrants and refugees. The humorous reminiscences transition to passionate and heated arguments into what it means to be Jewish, to support Israel. Issues regarding Palestine and immigrants in Australia. They scream and accuse each other. A very long pause where they refuse to speak is followed by a reconciliation. This is followed by a meta reflection on death. Both fathers movingly describe the circumstance of their passing away and their death-bed reconciliations with Brian and Gideon.
The simple premise is powerful. Reassessing their lives by role-playing their fathers is therapeutic, revealing and transcends the limits of the stage. This simple psychodrama experiment left me reeling. At an age, forty, where I am old enough to compare my own life story to that of my father, and having lived through his death too – it forced me to reconsider our own failings in a different and forgiving light. I really believe that this will be one of those exceptionally rare works where I walk away with a different take on my own life.
Two-thirds into the performance, it is finally time for the two older men to leave the foyer and take their seats in the audience. Now Gideon and Brian, the sons, take the stage as the performances. No dialogue. A choreographed abstract dance to arresting minimalist music. It is a startling and brilliant contrast and complement to the mechanics of the opening dialogue. A wondrous coda that is unique, brilliant and unforgettable.
Christian G. is an international man of mystery; lover of books, cats and the performing arts; moonlighting as a finance professional by day.
‘Two Jews walk into a theatre‘ runs 23-28 August 2016 at the Arts House in North Melbourne. The venue is accessible.