Dan guards his wife Lois’ hospital bed, ever hopeful that she’ll awake from her coma. Nurses come and go, but he continues with his karate moves, diligent in his practice.
In swoops Patti, their transgender granddaughter, smothered in an LSD-induced stupor after a messy breakup. Through the haze, Dan and Patti try to connect after years of strained separation. And it’s through Patti and her hallucinations that we journey back in time to Danny’s past, as he searches for meaning but ends up stranded in Kentucky with a bunch of drugged-up hippies. Eventually he finds strength and guidance back home in New Jersey, in the local karate dojo.
Playwright Lally Katz has given us yet again another hugely personal piece, inspired by her father’s life and love. It’s a fusion of the real and spirit worlds, and a simple, emotional story about family, identity and relationships.
It’s not an easy play to stage, with multiple flashbacks needing to be incorporated seamlessly into real-time. Lighting design by Richard Vabre assists, but obvious choices in style make the to-ing and fro-ing a little tiresome. Mel Page’s spacious set allows for expansive karate routines and choreographed fights, but overall the action lacks an intensity and clarity. A lot of the emotional action happens at the back and sides, not allowing it to resonate.
Performances are varied, with accents jumping all over the place, but together the cast work well to evoke a sense of time and place. As young Danny, Harry Greenwood is charming and goofy, and his transformation from lost boy to young lover is truthful. Brian Lipson as his older counterpart is strong and stoic, if a little stilted, and Fayssal Bazzi shines as underdog Jerry.
As Patti, Luke Mullins is tortured and tense. He’s extremely watchable, and his use of language and comic timing is spot on. His performance is psychologically complex and passionate. Regardless, it’s a shame the role wasn’t played by a transgender actor. It seems an obvious oversight, given how few opportunities there are for this in Australian theatre, and results in more than a few uncomfortable moments.
Stealing the show is actor and real-life karate black belt Natsuko Mineghishi. Her Sensei is grounded and powerful, bringing a sense of weight and gravitas to the stage. Mineghishi is also an accomplished singer, and gets an opportunity to showcase her tremendous voice in the second half.
Director Chris Kohn has created a funny production that has the ability to tug at the heartstrings. Katz’s script is recognisably surreal, but often witty and always honest. This time, however, co-producers Belvoir & Stuck Pigs Squealing have missed the mark with a show that doesn’t resonate as it should.
Alana Laye – Theatre Now
18 June – 17 Jul 2016
Wednesday to Friday 8pm
Saturday 2pm & 8pm
18 June 8:00pm
19 June 6.30pm
21 June 8:00pm
Opening night (invitation only): 22 June 8:00pm
Unwaged performance: 14 July 2:00pm
Sunday Forum: 17 July 3:00pm
Venue: Belvoir Upstairs Theatre
Theatre Company: Belvoir Theatre & Stuck Pigs Squealing
From the utterly marvellous writer of Neighbourhood Watch and The Cat comes a modern romance about wanderlust, love and karate. Lally Katz has spent the past decade turning her life into a series of hilarious and theatrically gorgeous plays. This time it’s her parents’ turn.
After nearly losing his mind in the abandon of 1960s America, young Danny (who happens to share a name with Lally’s father) finds his way again with the help of an enigmatic sensei. At a New Jersey karate dojo, he and other mislaid souls make their way back into the world, and Danny bumps into a woman called Lois… Meanwhile, in present-day Australia, Danny’s long-lost grandson has decided to become Patti Smith…
Inspired by the true events that brought Dan and Lois Katz together, Back at the Dojo features a Hogarthian parade of characters, two real-life karate masters, and the incomparable Luke Mullins (Angels in America, The Glass Menagerie) in a role written specially for him. Belvoir joins forces with legendary Melbourne company Stuck Pigs Squealing for this ravishing, nourishing story about the myths families live by.
Director: Lally Katz
Cast: Fayssal Bazzi, Dara Clear, Catherine Davies, Harry Greenwood, Brian Lipson, Netsuke Mineghishi, Luke Mullins, Shari Seabees
Set & Costume Designer Mel Page
Lighting Designer Richard Vabre
Sound Designer Jethro Woodward
Stage Manager Mel Dyer
Assistant Stage Manager Keiren Smith
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