Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 12 – Jun 6, 2015
Playwright: José Rivera
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Christian Charisiou, Deborah Galanos, Nicholas Papademetriou, Ronny Jon Paul Mouawad, Stephen Multari, Eloise Snape, David Soncin
Image by Clare Hawley
No man is an island. We need to feel a sense of belonging, not only with other people, but also with places. José Rivera’s The House Of Ramon Iglesia investigates the significance of ancestry and roots, through the experience of Puerto Rican migrants in 1980 New York. The Iglesia family is dislocated in a space between San Juan and Holbrook, and its two generations illustrate the complexity of human attachment to a sense of country and home. In our modern times, populations are in constant flux, and the arbitrariness of borders is negotiated to allow for opportunities and interested parties to collide. The matter of nationalities is no longer a straightforward concept for many, and Rivera’s work questions its importance and indeed, its relevance to individual lives.
Anthony Skuse’s direction of the piece is a passionate rendering that delivers an engaging and energetic theatre, but our empathy for its characters only arrives several scenes after it begins. Early sequences feel distant, perhaps a result of their estranged temporal and geographic contexts. Its themes take time to connect, and even though many of its ideas can be universal, we only recognise them after some investment of imagination and patience, but when the show shifts into a gear of high drama, the play becomes a dynamic one, with performances that impress with emotional depth, and a compelling cast chemistry that creates an extraordinarily believable family unit.
When actors are focused and psychologically accurate, we surrender our trust and follow their journeys without hesitation. Deborah Galanos’ intensity gives her Dolores an admirable strength and although quite flamboyant in her approach, we do not question the authenticity of what is being presented. The melodrama Galanos introduces is delightfully entertaining, and allows the actor to expand her characterisation beyond the scripted lines, so that who we meet is greater than an archetypal maternal figure. In the smaller role of Charlie is David Soncin, whose memorable performance is coloured with a natural exuberance and an effortless magnetism. He plays his role with clear and simple intentions, but always discovers powerful subtleties that add surprising dimension to his work. Stephen Multari’s conviction and emotional sonority is a highlight in many scenes of confrontation and feuding. Javier’s inner world is central to the effectiveness of the play, and Multari’s depiction of it is beautifully resonant. The actor’s vigour and earnestness however, can seem out of place in the show’s more tranquil moments, and opportunities are missed that could allow the character to be more endearing, so that we care more about the lead and all the people surrounding him.
When we think of identity, we inevitably go to beliefs about bloodlines and origin. Place is important, but how we manufacture meaning between lived experience and geography is idiosyncratic and personal, yet collectivism is always a part of the discussion. We talk of nations of peoples, and we talk of partners and kins. Rivera’s story is about that conundrum, not just of how we use identity labels, but also how these labels intersect between friends and family. Each person can have an intimate and private understanding of their own space in the big scheme of things, but arbitration will always exist, even for the strongest.