Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Wael Zuaiter: Unknown, April 30, 2014 ****

By Jesse Cox. Creative Nonfiction
Theatre Works, until May 11, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review also published in Herald Sun onlin on Thurs May 1, 2014 and later in print. KH
Jesse Cox, pic Sarah Walker

During Wael Zuaiter: Unknown, Jesse Cox tells a poignant love story about his great-aunt while simultaneously, and almost by stealth, informing the audience about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Seated alone at a desk on stage, Cox speaks gently, intimately but directly as he weaves a complex narrative about his great-aunt, Janet Venn-Brown’s relationship with her fiance, Wael Zuaiter, a Palestinian intellectual and translator who was murdered in Rome in October 1972.

Amongst episodes of the burgeoning love story between Wael and Janet, Cox threads the mythical, romantic tale of Sheherezade and The 1001 Nights.

The compelling beauty of Cox’s narrative is elevated by remarkable projections that shift from Aldous Massie’s vividly colourful paintings of Sheherezade to Matt Huynh’s grim, painterly, black-and-white images that depict Wael’s life.

Composer, Joff Bush, who is also on stage, provides evocative music to accompany the stories and imagery.

Despite Cox’s cool stillness and soothing, almost meditative tone and delivery, there is a sense of impending doom as he recounts tales of Janet and Wael’s life together and apart.

Cox structures the show cunningly, telling their story out of chronology so that we slowly piece together Wael’s character: his love of opera, his move to Rome to immerse himself in culture, his facility for languages, impracticality and his desire for a peaceful co-existence of Israelis and Palestinians.

Inserted between Cox’s own engaging, direct-to-audience storytelling are swift explanations of the origins of the state of Israel, the 6-Day War, the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the evolution of Israel’s Mossad and of the Black September terrorists.

And then we hear Janet herself, whose recorded voice sounds aged (she is 90), vulnerable and sad as she relates her version of events leading up to October 1972 and stories of her life as a painter in Rome.

Wael Zuaiter: Unknown will lull you into a romantic daze then gently tilt you into reality with disturbing stories of loss, war and terror.

By Kate Herbert

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