Omar and Dawn at KXT
Omar, a first-generation Lebanese Muslim Australian, is in and out of foster homes. Hungry for a warm bed and determined not to return to a life on the streets, he reluctantly agrees to be placed with 80-year-old Dawn. His best friend Ahmed has been rejected by his family for being gay and now lives under a bridge, working the local beats as a sex-worker. As Ahmed’s mental health deteriorates, Omar is determined to forge a better life for them both.
Unflinching and unapologetic, James Elazzi paints a searing portrait of culture, sexuality and isolation. In a howl of rage and love he asks: Where do we find refuge when the world seems to have forgotten us?
Rosie spoke with playwright James Elazzi about the premiere production of this work and what stories he wants to bring to the stage. Read the full interview below:
Omar and Dawn is a searing portrait of culture, sexuality, and isolation that examines where we find refuge when the world seems to have forgotten us. What inspired the creation of this work, and what do you hope to achieve with it?
Omar and Dawn is inspired by the struggles of the people around me and my personal experiences. There are so many stigmas around cultural understanding and sexuality, and I wanted to dissect these themes. As soon as we step outside the parameters of what we have taught and have been conditioned to believe without question, we also start to create a divide between ourselves and those that hold that these ideals on a pedestal.
This run at KXT will mark the premiere production of Omar and Dawn. Why do you think it is such an important time to bring a story like this to the stage? How do you think audiences will resonate with the work?
I have written Omar and Dawn because I truly believe that is a whole plethora of stories that are not told through various reasons. It could be concern about how one will be perceived by the community they derive from, shame and/or even concern about exposure. It is time to bring Omar and Dawn into the world because it calls for change. It allows the discussion to be had about minority communities and the suffering in silence so many individuals face. Dawn is an eighty-five-year-old woman who suffers from loneliness and longs for a connection. Omar and a seventeen-year-old and yearns for the same things. So much of the theatre is safe. It doesn’t challenge us to think outside the box.
You’ve been described as a new and urgent voice in Australian playwriting. What kind of voices would you like to see more of on the Australian stage?
Immigrant stories, stories of different migrant cultures that have been in Australia for generations or just recently. Stories about the elderly, about sexuality among minority groups. Stories about Australian communities in 2019. Stories about strong women, and men that have fought for change.
Another one of your works, Lady Tabouli, recently hit the stage at Griffin’s Batch Festival. Do you find similarities in the works you create or is the motivation different from every script? What fuels the plays that you write?
I don’t like repeating stories that I have explored in my plays. Every play will and has tackled something different. But the universal themes of belonging and identity will always remain a focal point in my work because we never stop growing. We never stop wanting to belong or needing companionship. We seek family, regardless if it is blood-related or the old lady down the street. I believe theatre should connect to every single person in the room, otherwise what’s the point? One could just go and put a film on.
Omar and Dawn seem to center on themes of hope and belonging, examining some content that is tough to swallow. How does your unapologetic approach to this content impact the way we digest it as an audience?
I always ask the audience questions that are hard to dissect. I don’t shy away from the truth and I write as honestly as I possibly can. I only want to watch and digest stories of strength and hope through adversity, so in turn, my stories will always stem from this. I write what I find interesting and I also hope it leaves the audience asking the same questions.
I find I write in an unapologetic, uncensored style because I believe the truth is the only means of inner peace. if I had seen any of my plays ten years ago, my life would have been much different. I would have a role model, a connection, someone to look up to and say, ‘I feel exactly the same way’, but alas, there was no one. Therefore, I write to change, to inspire and to connect.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite productions you have ever seen?
Wicked and The Girl, The Woman.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Dream show to write?
The Golden Girls
Plays or musicals?
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Vinyl records collector.
What’s next for you after this show?
Giving Lady Tabouli stronger wings to fly, as well as immersing myself through my Sydney Theatre Company Writers group.
Omar and Dawn opens on July 12 2019 at KXT. You can get your tickets here.