Lennox Theatre, January 14
Danny’s revelation to his Lebanese-Australian family that he’s gay is met with fury and contempt – not just because it’s supposedly a “phase” or a “disease”, but because he dared to raise this just before his eight-month-old nephew’s christening. From this, the half-way mark in James Elazzi’s 90-minute play, the audience should be sharing Danny’s hurt, disappointment and frustration, but it doesn’t quite work. Elazzi handles this pivot point and its aftermath adroitly enough, but our sympathies have already been claimed elsewhere.
Elazzi writes some laugh-out-loud lines in the first half, as Danny’s sister, Josephine (the baby’s mother, played by Nisrine Amine), his mother, Dana (Deborah Galanos) and his Uncle Mark (Johnny Nasser) frenetically, chaotically prepare for the $10,000 christening. Meanwhile Aunt Fatima from Lebanon is on speaker-phone, compounding the comedy and punctuating the frenzy, as cakes, cards, flowers, almonds, hair and a new statue of the Virgin Mary all take centre stage.
Stealing our affections away from Danny (Antony Makhlouf) is his mother, partly thanks to Galanos’ brassy performance, and partly to her having the best lines. “One day you’ll find a nice girl you can tolerate,” she reassures Danny, before he has come out. “My son will not marry a woman that makes him unhappy. If they don’t like it, they can pave the ocean.”
When Danny has revealed his secret, the snappish Josephine rounds on him with, “We’re all stuck in our miserable worlds. Why can’t you do the same?” It’s such a witheringly funny line as to undermine Elazzi’s intent. It’s not that we feel no sympathy for Danny, but that we can’t feel enough to make the play’s second half work as well as the first. His uncle’s own confession is more affecting, yet still does not quite achieve the presumed intent of leading us down a merry path, only to impale us on emotional spikes. The path is paved with mirth, alright, but the spikes are blunt.
Director Dino Dimitriadis (for National Theatre of Parramatta) has given the play every chance, his stage business maximising the comedy and his pacing ratcheting up the tension, but neither he nor Makhlouf have quite saved Danny’s anguish from veering into melodrama. Elazzi’s ending is so deft, however, that you’re left thinking how close this came to being exceptional work.