Review: Alex & Eve – The Complete Story (Bulldog Theatre Company)

bulldogVenue: Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Aug 25 – 28, 2016
Playwright: Alex Lykos
Director: Alex Lykos
Cast: Chris Argirousis, Anne Marie Cavaco, Sylvia Dritsakis, Michael Kazonis, Janette La Kiss, Alex Lykos, Paul Miskimmon, Jadah Quinn, Kate Ryerson, Sal Sharah

Theatre review
There are many among us who are conservative and traditional, but in multicultural places like Australia, their tendency to be inflexible with visions of how we live together can be problematic. Salwa is Lebanese Muslim, and George is Greek Orthodox, both insular and intolerant of other cultures, refusing to accept the validity of other ways of life, until their offspring force them into a confrontation of wills through the classic contrivance of a mixed marriage. Alex Lykos’ Alex & Eve: The Complete Story combines three episodic plays to tell the couple’s story from their first meeting to the birth of their first child. Its duration is inevitably long, but the script is a tight concoction of high jinks and social commentary that although entirely predictable, is endlessly amusing with its host of vibrant, irresistible archetypes.

The production is a visually basic one that would benefit greatly from more ambitious efforts in set and costume design, but Lykos’ own direction of the work is effectively comedic and fast-paced. There is no attempt at a naturalistic mode of presentation, which can make for an excessively farcical show, but its slapstick is unquestionably charming and proves very appealing to its target audience. Janette La Kiss as Salwa and Michael Kazonis as George are both strikingly present, with flamboyant approaches to performance that captivate and entertain. Both are able to find nuance with their roles, thereby delivering more than stereotypical interpretations of minority elders.

Not being dominant cultures in Australia, the Greek and Lebanese characters have a greater freedom to portray the nature of prejudice in our communities. Some of what they say is objectionable, but their statements are tempered with good humour, and those who speak indiscreetly are exposed for their ignorance. Not one person can be excluded from the world’s politics, but how individuals participate in it, is infinitely variable. Alex & Eve does not talk about terrorism or immigration, but its feuding families are involved in a war that serves to remind us of how we must value peace, no matter how big or small a perspective we may have of the world.

Review: It’s War (Bulldog Theatre Company)

bulldogVenue: Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Oct 9 – 19, 2014
Playwright: Alex Lykos
Director: Alex Lykos
Cast: Jenny Apostolou, Chris Argirousis, Marissa Marie Kaye, Janette Lakiss, Ben Maclaine, Maria Tran

Theatre review
Note: This review reveals a key plot twist.

Discussions about race never seem to cease in Australia. Our history of migration over the last 226 years has seen a multiculturalism that has required constant arbitration and re-imagination. In our theatre landscape however, these discussions are few and far between, with an Anglo-Saxon culture persisting with its dominance in production and output. Alex Lykos’ It’s War attempts to shed light on racial relations at a grass roots level, with a story about neighbourly altercations involving characters from diverse ethnicities. We live in a time where the representation of that diversity is usually suppressed in mainstream media, as the depiction of difference can often be interpreted as malicious. Faces of “minorities” are presented occasionally, but they are discouraged from displaying modes of behaviour that may be too idiosyncratic. The notion of colour-blindness is well-meaning, but it tends to institute a kind of assimilation, reducing differences to a generic beigeness that serves as an image of a unified nationhood.

Lykos’ show however, exaggerates our differences by amplifying racial stereotypes, which is uncomfortable viewing for our political correct sensibilities, but also thoroughly amusing. It is challenging to laugh too heartily at a script that characterises Vietnamese women as dog-eating mail order brides, Indians as smelly curry munchers, “Aussies” as spineless, and Greek men as adulterous closeted poofters. We strive hard in our daily lives to distance ourselves from such misrepresentations, but Lykos’ efforts at finding universality through gross overstatements for every character is an interesting proposition, and because no one is spared his distortion, the show’s comedy becomes almost feasible.

Maria Tran approaches her role Ngoc Bich with an extremely coarse, but hilarious, interpretation of the recent migrant. Tran is the only actor who puts on a speech accent that is drastically unlike her natural voice, presumably because the character has only spent five years in Australia. It is debatable whether making Ngoc Bich a mail order bride actually helps with the plot but nevertheless, Tran provides many of the biggest laughs of the production with her impressive comic abilities, and enthusiasm for the stage. Also memorable is Jenny Apostolou as Soula, who creates the only realistic personality in the play. Apostolou brings an authenticity that is otherwise missing in the show’s lampoonery tone, and her reassuring presence gives a professional polish to her work. Performances in general are funny, if a little uneven, but cast chemistry is strong, displaying a good level of camaraderie and trust.

The work is neither sophisticated nor subtle, but its structure is taut and every scene is engaging. There is a vibrant energy in the writing and also in its performances, which help moderate some of the more alienating and controversial touches of the script. “Can we all get along” is Rodney King’s immortal quote from the 1992 Los Angeles riots that has found resonance the world over, and that simple message is just what It’s War wishes to say.