Lady Tabouli | National Theatre of Parramatta

Image by Robert Catto

Life doesn’t stop for anyone. For this Lebanese-Australian family, they want to focus on their son and nephew’s christening but uncomfortable truths, family secrets, and the tension between love and belief threaten to unravel the carefully orchestrated day. It wasn’t what Danny planned for, but he may have found the limit of his family’s unconditional love.

In the background of Josephine’s (Nisrine Amine) son’s christening madness, amongst the sugared almonds, missing cake, and Lebanese aunty calling internationally, Danny (Antony Makhlouf) is negotiating the break-up of his engagement. On the surface, a broken engagement is a typical family disappointment, but through the trusty gossip grapevine, it becomes clear that Danny is additionally acknowledging his homosexuality. The timing for this revelation is bad, rapidly increasing the resistance with which his religious family hears it and encouraging a booze-filled afternoon and reminiscence with superstar singer Sabah (Johnny Nasser). Despite Danny’s best hopes, he has found the uncrossable boundary of his family’s love and acceptance by trying to embrace his identity.

James Elazzi’s script drops the audience into the naturalistic chaos of Dana’s (Deborah Galanos) kitchen with the warmth of sibling argument. Galanos is, in typical mother fashion, nonchalant when she should be indignant and outraged about trivialities. On this morning she balances collecting a new Virgin Mary statue, blessing her house, making tabouli, and fixing a face mask for last minute plumping. Danny, Josephine, and Uncle Mark (Nasser) make themselves useful in Dana’s wake, forming a close familial dynamic.

In contrast to the naturalism of the script is the bold technical design. Benjamin Brockman’s lighting design, which incorporates bright, cold strip lighting that undulates across the space, combined with Ben Pierpoint’s inorganic sound design gives the kitchen an out-of-this-world quality more like a dislocated spaceship than a suburban home.

Direction from Dino Dimitriadis strove to honour the emotions of the coming out story with a slow and careful pacing, leaving space for the unspoken between the family members. However, this pacing also served to emphasise the repetitions in Elazzi’s script, first in the circular and ineffectual fussing of Josephine in the organising of her son’s christening, and then in the tired disapproval as each family member approached Danny with their argument against his sexuality. While there is something to be said about the experiences of queer people at the intersections of race, ethnicity, and religion, Lady Tabouli falls in line with a large collection of coming out narratives that don’t step further than the initial revelation to examine or interrogate the less mainstream moments of being LGBTQIA+.

With a larger scope and more time afforded to Danny’s relationship with his sister through the tracks of Sabah, Lady Tabouli could set itself apart as a family drama with depth and a point of difference.

Lady Tabouli is running at Riverside Theatre from January 9th – 18th as part of Sydney Festival

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