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Festival review: Two Jews Walk Into a Theatre…

Adelaide Festival

Two actors portray a fictional meeting of their own elderly fathers in this interesting and offbeat piece of experimental theatre.

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The two Jews of the title are Melbourne actor, director and designer Gideon Obarzanek and director and choreographer Brian Lipson, playing their fathers, who meet unexpectedly in the foyer of the theatre while waiting for their two sons to perform modern dance.

They are both early. One has not put his watch back after coming from Melbourne and the other has come straight in from London. There is a very slow build of tension from mundane matters: the half-hour time difference from Melbourne, public transport in Adelaide (full marks for our suburban bus from the airport), odd place names in Australia.

The style is conversational, quirkily realistic, with good use of Pinter-esque pauses. We are getting to know these guys.

Eventually they discover that their sons are appearing in the show together (they don’t agree with this whole modern dance thing – people wrestling around in the nude). And then we get to Jewishness.

The feeling has been of experimental theatre from the start. The two old guys sit on stage in their uncomfortable (so they say) stools as the audience files in. Two metres of butcher’s paper are taped to the floor, a cheat sheet with the framework of the show marked in heavy black Texta. Some of the experiments work better than others. Lipson skips a section from the butcher’s paper structure and Obarzanek reminds him to go back; they refer to the sheet often.

When the arguments over Israel begin, the transition to shouting and anger comes suddenly, almost inexplicably, in two separate spasms. And they are brief. The debate is over before it starts. The emphasis throughout is on the father/son relationship rather than politics or Israel or Jewishness.

These two actors met during a fellowship in 2011 and hit on the idea of having a conversation as their own fathers. They play on the experience that everyone has of hearing their parents’ voices coming from their own mouths. As Lipson says: “I would recommend this form of therapy to anyone.”

This parent relationship theme is played up further by the surprise ending.

The two actors disappear in a faux ending behind a curtain which rises to find them beginning a modern dance sequence, choreographed by Lucy Guerin (who is also the play’s director), perhaps in ironic tribute from these two old guys to their sons. They roll around on the floor (not naked); it is half-serious, half-comic and well-executed, and was well appreciated by last night’s full house.

Two Jews Walk Into a Theatre is as the Odeon Theatre, Norwood, until March 10. See more Adelaide Festival stories and reviews here.

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