Left – Brian Lipson and Gideon Obarzanek. Photo – Bryony Jackson
Two Jews Walk into a Theatre came about when actor and theatre-maker Brian Lipson (via an Australia Council Fellowship) chose to work with 25 different artists on completely open briefs – he and choreographer Gideon Obarzanek improvised a conversation as their fathers, Laurence Lipson and Zenek Obarzanek.
Lucy Guerin directs this evilly funny show where two proud yet bemused fathers meet in the foyer of the Arts House and discover that their respective sons are the performers in the show they are each waiting to see. They are polite with each other to begin with, discussing how a town hall can become an arts centre and the failings thereof, then move through a conversation about their sons’ arts practices but eventually find themselves on opposing sides of politics. The dissection of the artistic careers of the sons as seen by their dads is especially delicious. So are their efforts to stay connected even after they find themselves in opposition regarding Australia’s immigration policies and the establishment and western support of the State of Israel. Their life experiences have led them to defend certain positions and neither man hesitates to loudly challenge and provoke the other.
Brian Lipson’s dad was English, a military man from the midlands whose forebears came to England from the shtetls of Russia. Obarzanek’s dad, of Polish descent, moved to Israel and served in the Israeli army, arriving there just after the six day war of 1967. Lipson points out that if you go back a few generations their families would have been in similar situations in similar environments yet these two men hold wildly antagonistic world views. As always with history, hearing the personal experience brings the past intensely to life and one of the strengths of the show is in how damned fascinating it is to hear their stories and gain an appreciation of their hopes for their families.
The spontaneous quality of the show comes from it not being scripted; rather a long sheet of butchers’ paper lies on the floor with prompts to the performers as to what to talk about in what order, and which also acts to remind the audience of the conceit. The last few minutes of the show sees Lipson and Obarzanek come back to themselves and perform a segment of eloquent and ritualized physical theatre, speaking to a broader experience of masculinity and vulnerability, and to how much their fathers have informed them beyond words and performance.
Two Jews Walk Into a Theatre is so convulsively hilarious that I wanted to slap the knee of the person next to me, pinch their cheeks and roar in their face. However, it’s more than that – the show works and appeals on different levels. Lipson in one interview referred to the conversations as his father that created Two Jews as a form of therapy he recommends highly. Whatever, the outcome is unmissable and unforgettable.
Two Jews walk into a theatre…
Devised and performed by Brian Lipson & Gideon Obarzanek
Directed by Lucy Guerin
Venue: North Melbourne Town Hall | 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Dates: 24 – 28 August 2016
Tickets: $35 – $25
Bookings: artshouse.com.au | (03) 9322 3713