Review: The Marriage Agency (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 16 – Oct 1, 2022
Playwright: Saman Shad
Kenneth Moraleda
Cast: Kevin Batliwala, Caroline L. George, Atharv Kolhatkar, Lex Marinos, Ashi Singh
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

Somewhere in Australia, Nasir is opening a marriage agency, because he has successfully matched dozens of Indian and Pakistani couples, and thinks it is time he turns professional. A hopeless romantic, Nasir is also buoyed by the success of his own marriage with Tasnim, making him feel an expert in the field. Saman Shad’s The Marriage Agency is a delightful comedy about love, for the young-at-heart. Nasir and Tasnim may be parents to a quick-witted rapidly growing teenager, but their relationship is still very much a focus.

Shad’s play takes a gentle, if slightly predictable, look at marriage during its maturing years. Characters in The Marriage Agency are refreshingly idiosyncratic, with consistently humorous dialogue that has us captivated. Directed by Kenneth Moraleda, the show feels energised, bearing an effervescence that proves uplifting from start to end.

Stage design by Rita Naidu cleverly incorporates a traditionally styled wedding walkway, that adds dimensionality to our sense of time and space. Lights by Saint Clair are thoroughly and ambitiously considered, to provide visual richness, to a simple story. Samantha Cheng’s spirited music gives the production a rhythmic foundation, on which performers and audience can connect, in emotional and atmospheric terms.

Actor Atharv Kolhatkar is wonderfully endearing as the somewhat naïve Nasir, able to make convincing a personality who is evidently quixotic by nature. Caroline L. George offers excellent balance as Tasnim, the much more rational spouse, effective at anchoring the story in a place of realism, that represents a familiar point of access for viewers. Lex Marinos’ understated approach as Bill, brings not only nuance but also elegance. Ashi Singh is a compelling presence, as daughter Salima. Kevin Batliwala is very charismatic, and very funny, in a number of disparate roles, leaving a remarkable impression with his natural flair for comedic timing.

Marriage is not for everyone, but for some, it can be all-consuming. Watching people like Nasir, who invest so much into romance, can be bewildering, but it is no doubt fascinating to see how fulfilling it appears to be. It is a reminder that to be human, involves a universal wrestling with a feeling of lack, that somehow we are created with an emptiness that requires something external, to provide a sensation of wholeness or completion. There is some truth to the idea, that we are born alone, and we die alone, but the fact remains, that for life to be meaningful, one needs to find ways to connect. The universe is embracing of us in infinite ways, and it is how we respond to those possibilities (and what we decide to call love) that matters.

Review: Ate Lovia (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 12 – Jun 4, 2022
Playwright: Jordan Shea
Director: Kenneth Moraleda
Cast: Dindi Huckle-Moran, Anna Lee, Chaya Ocampo, Joseph Raboy, Marcus Rivera
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It was 1996, and Australia could no longer deny that a tide was turning, when a newly-elected Senator proclaimed that we were “in danger of being swamped with Asians”. The long held national pride around notions of mateship and the fair-go, was obliterated overnight. Division and prejudice had suddenly become sanctioned, marking a significant occasion of innocence lost, in our collective history. Jordan Shea’s Ate Lovia is a story about a Filipino-Australian family, set during that watershed moment, when Asians on this land were singularly vilified. In the ensuing social disunity, we observe the fractures that had extended from the top levels of government, into the homes of individuals.

Lovia and Vergel are siblings, who live with their alcoholic father Jovy. There is no shortage of love in the household, but the trauma that Jovy had suffered before and after coming to Australia, means that peace is elusive. Fleeing persecution, only to find himself becoming a second-class citizen in a white colony, Jovy does his best to raise his Australian children, but the hardship he faces daily, proves too hard to bear. In Jordan Shea’s Ate Lovia, we see two teenagers left to their own devices, trying to find their feet in sink or swim circumstances.

Shea’s writing is astute and passionate, almost rhapsodic with the emotions that it captures. Its narrative may not feel original, but there is a level of detail in its observations, that makes for delicious theatre, fascinating and amusing to a great degree, whilst making statements that are important for a nuanced understanding of life on this land. Under the directorship of Kenneth Moraleda, Ate Lovia is strikingly authentic with the people it seeks to represent, and even though his approach is not quite as fastidious as the material requires, what the show is able to articulate, is resonant and undoubtedly truthful.

Production design by Ruru Zhu is simple, but powerfully evocative. Martin Kinnane’s lights help to tell the story in a succinct and direct way. Music and sound by Michael Toisuta are adventurous augmentations, sometimes humorous, and sometimes bold.

Actor Chaya Ocampo is an earnest Lovia, slightly limited with the sentiments she is able to convey for the titular role, but nonetheless a dedicated and resolute presence. Joseph Raboy plays Vergel with similar enthusiasm, and commendable with the introspective qualities he introduces, but certainly falls short in terms of physical discipline, in a role that requires exceptional dance ability. Jovy is given extraordinary energy by an intense Marcus Rivera, whose unabashed depiction of a melodramatic personality, offers a disarming style of performance rarely seen in colonised art spaces. Dindi Huckle-Moran as Lou, and Anna Lee as Wendy, are integral to the action, both performers bringing valuable buoyancy to the show.

Unable to find a sense of belonging in his adopted home of Australia, Jovy is in turn incapable of providing for his children, the security that they need to flourish. Lovia and Vergel soon discover the limitations of what their family can provide, and begin searching outside, but the rejections faced by their father, are likely to befall every subsequent generation in not dissimilar ways. That is, unless things improve. Comparing Asian-Australian lives today with 1996, we are unlikely to come to any firm conclusion, about the extent to which conditions have changed. The only certainty is that there is still a lot of work to be done, before the matter of race can be put to rest. |