21 July 2011

Review: A Golem Story

A Golem Story
Malthouse Theatre
17 June 2011
Merlyn Theatre

I don't want a year without a new play by Lally Katz. Until now, her addictive black writing has usually left me in tears of laughter, but she has bounded into new ground with A Golem Story: an exquisite exploration about the place of God and the sacred in our lives.

In Prague in 1580, Ahava (Yael Stone) wakes up in a Synagogue with a disjointed memory of her dead husband and believes his Dybbuk (spirit) has passed into her. The Rabbi  (Katz favourite, Brian Lipson) invites her to stay, but his student Amos (Dan Speilman) fears her, especially when the Rabbi asks her to help make a Golem that can protect the local Jews and stop local children from being killed.  Meanwhile, the Christian guard (Greg Stone) will go to any length to prove that the blood of Christ is enough for him, but his Emperor (Mark Jones) is willing to share an apple with Jew.

Drawing on Jewish culture and with live music led by Cantor Michel Laloum, director Michael Kantor reveals his heart and soul in this work. I've often felt distanced by Kantor's work, where I could see the intent and the creativity, but never felt for the world or the characters. God sits in the heart of this world. Each character sees him/her/it as something different, but each yearns for the deep comfort that sacred beliefs bring. It's not a Jew versus Christian tale, but it uses these two great faiths to let us examine where we'd be if the space filled by what we hold scared became empty.

The outstanding cast clearly draw on their own beliefs to bring the contractions of fear and faith, secular and sacred, and God and human to each character, who are all struggling to make decisions that will bring God closer to their lives.

Designers Anna Cordingley (costume and set) and Paul Jackson (lighting) create this world with a combination of the warm darkness of 16th century Prague and the coldness of clean contemporary light. I've found Cordingley's designs distracting in the past, but her distinct sense of detail and remarkable aesthetic support every element of the script and I can't imagine one without the other. Jackson's use of burning candles and electric light is stunning and his light-only Golem evokes a fascinating contradiction of fear and love. I know I say it every time, but there isn't a lighting designer in this town who comes near to Jackson.

A Golem Story retains Katz's gorgeously unique voice, but it doesn't rely on humour to create emotion. By losing the comfortable buffer of laughs, her characters are left more emotionally vulnerable and we have no choice but to feel with them. This is beautiful, emotive writing and evidence that this wonderful writer is going to be one of our unforgettable playwrights.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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