This guy is brilliant. Jeremie Bracka, a nice Jewish boy from Caulfield, is currently employed as an international lawyer in Israel. He is also an excellent mimic with an evil ear for detail, nuance, dialogue, accent, and an outrageous, campy talent for inhabiting the physicality of his characters. The inviting title might lead you to expect a show about Arafat but the play comprises Bracka’s presentation of his life as a series of sketches, ranging from his travels in Morocco, Israel, Gaza, the States and beyond, including his studies in Arabic and his work with the UN, the Peres Centre for Peace and for Israel’s Chief Negotiator at Oslo, and more.
This review proceeds, however, on the understanding that I only heard half of the show, as the acoustics at Theatreworks (muffled at the best of times), fighting with Bracka’s soft voice and the air conditioning, made for an annoying experience of a play which is undoubtedly terrific. Even the audio visuals were hard to hear, as were the puppetry elements.
It has to be said that (the early parts especially) of Arafat in Therapy are so very Jewish with so many insider jokes and references that I felt somewhat excluded. Pure delight for anyone from the culture (as it pertains to Melbourne), with the wonderful idiosyncrasies and expressiveness of characters we all recognise from Jewish humour (the ubiquitous guilt-bashing mother, the father with his constant, often irrelevant references to Israel) creating a rapid-fire and intelligent hilarity. Don’t be put off by the play’s cultural specificity but be aware that many one-liners you might not get if you’re not ‘a Jewsh’ (as one of the Arabic personalities says).
And the one-liners come thick and fast: here is his mother teaching him the alphabet: “‘A’ is for Auschwitz. ‘B’ is for Büchenwald. ‘C’ is for a country to call our own.” “What was I doing in the West Bank?” Bracka muses ... “I hadn’t even been to West Melbourne. I thought Jews living in Doncaster were refugees. And the only wall I’d been close to was a good coffee on Carlisle Street.” Israel sits between Italy and Ireland at the UN: “The Italians know food. The Irish know suffering. Basically they’re Jews ...” “Jews are so used to being uprooted that we say ‘shalom’. It means ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’”. “Just don’t mention Interflora,” says Doreen Kugelmanne, the South African founder of Socialites without Borders .
Bracka is a comic genius in the same league as Chris Lilley, Sean Micallef and John Safran; someone Melbourne should be immensely proud of. There is so much of interest to learn in the show, too; Bracka’s observations are perceptive and very funny and he has a wide variety of experiences to draw on and characters to portray against the backdrop of the most highly emotive, contentious international issue there is. He makes us laugh about it. Arafat in Therapy is clever, insightful and light in tone. Never trivialising the issues of Israel/Palestine, the play presents a refreshing comic overview without positioning an audience by moralising. His characters are mostly pragmatic (“we have a saying in Hebrew: it is better to be clever than right”), and philosophical; the immensely tragic nature of the conflict is swiftly (almost too hastily), slipped in with immense poignancy at the end of the show. In an almost perfect moment one character asks another “How can you shake the hand of a man who killed your son?” “I have another son,” replies his companion. “And I don’t want to lose him.”
Arafat in Therapy
Venue: Theatre Works | 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Dates: 9,10, 12 and 13 February 2011
Tickets: $ 30.00
Bookings: www.theatreworks.org.au | 9534 3388