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Review: For the Love of Paper at KXT On Broadway

Review by Giddy Pillai

Amaliah – a passionate musician from Karachi and Kaveh – an easygoing doctor from Kabul share a cosy two bedroom apartment in Sydney filled with warmth and love and chai. They’re the very best of friends – each other’s ride or die. So, when Amaliah’s visa options run thin and she faces deportation, Kaveh, who has Australian citizenship, figures it only makes sense that they get married. No, he doesn’t love her romantically – he bats for the other team – but he does love her with all his heart, and it would put a pin in his mother’s relentless efforts to fix him up with a nice Afghan girl back home. All they’d have to do is fill out the paperwork for a partner visa, get a few friends to vouch that they’re in a de facto relationship, send it all off to immigration, and everybody wins. Amaliah is not sold. They’d be lying to the government – committing fraud and risking jail time, and besides, it just feels wrong. Eventually she agrees to do it, but the stress of keeping up their story while navigating the intricacies of Australia’s convoluted, expensive and frequently unforgiving immigration system wears heavy on them, exposing tensions in their relationship with each other and with themselves.

For the Love of Paper invites its audience into the lives and hearts of these two friends as they navigate this emotionally high-stakes moment. It’s deep, raw, real, crammed with an impressive amount of detail about Australian migration law, and frequently very funny. The three-member cast is across the board excellent. Playwright Almitra Mavalvala infuses Amaliah with heart and fire, conveying the sense of a woman walking the tightrope between hope and despair. Antony Makhlouf delivers a nuanced portrayal of Kaveh, full of gentle, reassuring energy, with an underlying repressed emotion that rises subtly to the surface from time to time. In some ways these characters feel like polar opposites, and in some ways they feel very much alike – they are both kind, deeply loving, treasure their families and cultures and have conflicted feelings about their home countries. It’s easy to see why they’re drawn to each other, and their love for each other feels rich and real. Joseph Raboy cycles impressively through an array of side characters – a blasé immigration lawyer, a suspicious government official, a plethora of comically bad Tinder dates (as well as one very good date). While Mavalvala’s and Makhlouf’s performances are three dimensional and realistic, Raboy paints the vast majority of his characters as caricatures. The contrast this brings lends the play many belly laughs, while also reinforcing the intimacy and safety and sense of home that Kaveh and Amaliah feel with each other.

When I’m not on stage or writing reviews, I’m an immigration and citizenship lawyer, so I’m more familiar with the legal ins and outs of trying to make a home here than most. I’ve spent years working in the refugee law space – an experience which has made me all too aware of how our country, which we like to call lucky, is selective about who it hands its luck to. I’m the daughter of two immigrants, and a friend to many more, so I also understand something of what goes into navigating the complicated feelings – and the considerable red tape – that come with moving across the world. But as lawyer, daughter, friend, there’s a limit to how much I understand. I’ve never been an immigrant myself, and people rarely put their messiest feelings on display. 

Theatre, when it’s created from an honest place, can build empathy by shining a stage light on things that people commonly feel, but rarely speak about, and For the Love of Paper does this masterfully. Mavalvala’s script is born from a place of lived experience. Her last show, the autobiographical one-woman cabaret Blacklisted, told her own story of trying to create the life that she wants as an artist, a daughter, a friend, a human, while saddled with a passport that has made doors across the world slam in her face. For the Love of Paper is a fiction, but it brims with the same authenticity. I feel as though I’ve been a guest in Kaveh and Amaliah’s very real home, and that I’ve been granted an intimate glimpse into their very real hearts. I come away feeling like I understand a little more about some of the questions that people in I care about in my very real life may have navigated on their migration journeys.

For the Love of Paper is more than just a migration story. At its heart it’s a story about being human and all that contains. Amaliah and Kaveh aren’t single issue characters, they’re nuanced, three dimensional, subtly drawn people, and the stress of navigating Australia’s web of immigration laws throws up deep questions – and tensions – about the different ways that they navigate things that come up in every life - love, identity, risk, uncertainty, friendship, family, fear, hope. In the couple of days since I saw the show, I’ve spent many hours mulling over what choices I’d make in their shoes. I wonder what comforts I’d give up for the opportunity to take a chance at my deepest dreams, and what dreams I’d leave sleeping to hold on to the comforts of home. I wonder whether I’d agree to lie to the government to help out my nearest and dearest, and whether I’d even be up to the task. I wonder about how society comes to decide its hierarchy of legitimacies. Why is there a ready pathway to citizenship for a doctor and virtually none at all for a musician? How did we decide that declaring you’re in a relationship with your live-in romantic partner is legitimate, but declaring you’re in a relationship with your live-in platonic soulmate who you’d move mountains for is fraud?

Suffice to say, this is a play that’s wedged itself into my heart, and I don’t think it’ll be unwedging itself anytime soon. It’s made me think new thoughts and feel new feelings, in the way that new life experiences or significant conversations tend to do. I think a big part of why it hits so deeply is how well the whole production team works together. This is a show that adds up to more than the sum of its many excellent parts. Director Kersherka Sivakumaran has given the work a lovely flow that syncs with the emotional worlds of the central characters. Experiences with little emotional weight – a flurry of halfhearted Tinder dates with a carousel of wrong people, for instance – come together as a comedic, stylised montage, while those little moments where time can seem to freeze are luxuriously drawn out – taking a breather to play guitar, or spend quality time with a care package from home; awkwardly trying to figure out whether to reach out or stand your ground when you’re in a standoff with someone you love. Set designer Paris Bell has created an onstage apartment for Amaliah and Kaveh that feels like a real home. It’s warmly furnished, infused with their personalities and features a well-stocked kitchen with a working stove, where many cups of the best Karachi chai are made and shared. Getting to share a post-show cuppa with the company and the rest of the audience is a warm touch that consolidates the feeling of being invited into the real home of real friends. Jasmin Borsovsky’s gorgeous lighting design enhances the feeling of intimacy and emotional resonance with a range of creative choices that reflect the moods of the characters and make the apartment feel alive (the sunlight streaming warmly in through the kitchen window is a personal favourite detail). Musical touches by Mavalvala and Andre Sauzier are beautiful and feel personal. Costumes by Rita Naidu feel lived in and true to the characters. This is a show that’s clearly been made with a lot of love, and it shines through.

I wholeheartedly recommend For the Love of Paper. Go to laugh, to cry, to feel, to think, to share a special moment and a cup of chai. Go to see a talented company pour their hearts and souls into a work that comes from a real place. It’s a beautiful, intimate experience that I don’t think you’ll regret.

Image Credit: LSH Media



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