Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 4 – 21, 2022
Playwright: James Elazzi
Director: Anna Jahjah
Cast: Violette Ayad, Kate Bookallil, Simon Elrahi, Deborah Galanos, Mansoor Noor
Images by David Hooley
Cousins Adam and Clare are queer Australians, but they are also Lebanese. Like many of our LGBTQIA+ compatriots from minority cultural backgrounds, they do not have the luxury to live loud and proud, like the mainstream examples we often see in white media. Instead, they indulge in their sexualities surreptitiously, and rely only on each other, for open and honest companionship. Things begin to unravel however, when Clare decides to marry a man, in a radical attempt to stop being a lesbian once and for all.
James Elazzi’s Son of Byblos exposes the truth about queer life on this land, as experienced by many people of colour. On one hand, it questions the progress that we think we have made as a political movement, and on the other, it challenges traditional ways of life that are still pervasive in enclaves everywhere, that continue to struggle with acceptance. Adam wants to be a good son to his loving parents, but he is never able to reconcile fundamental truths about his sexuality, with expectations at home.
This is by no means a new story. In fact in can be considered an age-old one, but Elazzi’s insistence on discussing the issue, prevents us from looking away. Delusions about social advancement, means that people can be left behind, but a play like Son of Byblos in 2022 reminds us that activism and advocacy should always be about those who are most disadvantaged. LGBTQIA+ progressivism in Australia it seems, has taken its eye off the ball.
The work is directed by Anna Jahjah who anchors the action in that space of conflict and tension, where tradition and rights of the individual, prove dissonant. Performances oscillate in and out of naturalism, but when the cast hits upon moments of authenticity, is when the drama really captivates.
Actor Mansoor Noor brings polish to the production, playing Adam with great nuance and believability. It is admirable that Noor’s portrayal of a difficult existence is one of a man taking it in his stride, rather than only looking tortured. There is a valuable air of dignity given to all the characters in Son of Byblos. Kate Bookallil as Clare is especially moving in her final scene, completely devastating as she tries to deal a final blow to her genuine self. Also very touching and vulnerable, is Violette Ayad who as old friend Angela, stands up for herself and refuses to be a pawn in Adam’s charade. Simon Elrahi and Deborah Galanos play Adam’s well-meaning parents, both warm presences that help us mediate this painful conundrum, of the truth against piety.
Sex in Son of Byblos is never depicted in a positive light. Instead of pleasure, connection and empowerment, it only delivers anguish. When we see that even the most beautiful things, can be turned harrowing, we must come to the realisation that resistance is critical.