The Laden Table

21 Mar

Does talk solve anything? It’s often said that the belief that it does is the great liberal myth. But it’s a belief shared by the axial age religions, that great movement that mysteriously flowered between about 600 BCE and 700 CE, and birthed (among other things) Buddhism, bhakti Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. What made this flowering so extraordinary, and seemingly different from what came before, was the new-found emphasis on compassion and empathy.

The Laden Table is a piece that’s had a long development.  Six women (Yvonne Perczuk, Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernahan and Ruth Kliman) have been coming together for the last nine years to talk and share stories from their diverse backgrounds.

The resultant play is built on a simple conceit: two families, one Islamic and one Jewish, each meets to celebrate a festival. These two families don’t interact with each other (well, they do, but that’s spoiler territory) – their separate evening meals are presented simultaneously on stage, and the impact is to suggest that the different families are really not so different after all.

Both know love. Both know suffering. And both know how to argue among themselves.

THE LADEN TABLE photo credit Natasha Narula

Photo by Natasha Narula

A large ornate table stands centre stage, and lit by Benjamin Brockman and designed by Courtney Westbrook, it’s a visual feast, and a powerful symbol of both the possibility of communion and the weight of tradition. Director Suzanne Millar has put together a strong ensemble, and she and her team work the space well, effectively juxtaposing the imposing presence of the table with the creation of vibrant, passionate, living characters. There are some standout performances, including Jessica Paterson as a young Australian Jewish doctor who’s witnessed the horrific consequences of political violence, and Sarah Meacham, who plays a young Australian Islamic woman navigating family expectations.

And back to those arguing families: The play’s main aim is to take on prejudice, and one of its major sources, ignorance. After all, evil does evil, but not half as well as stupid.

Where does bigoted thinking come from?

We teach children it’s immoral, but that’s only the half of it. It’s also the result of intellectual error. All Jews are…. All Palestinians are…. These sorts of statements fail to convince, unless pain and grief skew our thinking, and simplicity appears as a solution, rather than what it is – a great denial of Life, in all its glorious complexity.

Perhaps ironically, considering its origins, the play doesn’t present talk as leading to a resolution. The playwrights are sensibly modest in this regard. How could such huge problems be solved so quickly, so easily?

But, of course, it’s the conversation with the audience that ultimately matters. The Laden Table is vital, exciting, invigorating theatre.

Paul Gilchrist

 

The Laden Table by Yvonne Perczuk, Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernahan and Ruth Kliman

Produced by bAKEHOUSE

at Kings Cross Theatre til March 25

tix and info here

 

 

 

 

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