Saturday, 24 August 2013

Stories I Want to Tell You in Person

Stories I Want to Tell You in Person is a Woody Allenesque tour through the neurotic life of its writer - who, I suspect, is meant to be emblematic of all writers. Performed by the writer herself, Lally Katz, the play begins with her uprooting from Miami to Kambah, Canberra, where she is shunned by her playmates, after one of them sees what she has written in her diary:

"I love my mother, I love my father, I love my brother, I love myself"

Loving yourself, compulsory in America, is unacceptable, she discovers, in her new homeland.

The play moves on to her shift, aged 18, to Kew in Melbourne where she spends two years getting to know her elderly Hungarian neighbour, thus providing herself with material for a play - Neighbourhood Watch - which is extremely successful. On the strength of this experience, Katz  decides that, in order to continue as a playwright, she will have to form other equally intense relationships with potential characters. She meets a Canadian cowboy, after they both narrowly avoid being reversed into by a large truck, and has an unsatisfactory affair with him, which ends - possibly because he discovers that she has photographed all his possessions, or possibly she photographs all his possessions because she knows the affair is about to end.

Shortly afterwards, Katz is commissioned to write a play about Golem. As she is only half Jewish - on her father's side - Katz is ignorant of Jewish culture. Once she has established that she is not writing a Lord of the Rings spin-off, she decides that she must seek out a rabbi to explain to her what exactly Golem is all about. However, a colleague puts her in touch with someone we subsequently know as the 'full Jew' (as opposed to she, Katz, who is the part Jew) who meets her for some coffee, is extremely unfriendly but lends her some books - thus giving her hope that they will meet again and eventually marry, (which is the outcome she imagines for all encounters with the opposite sex). Although 'the full Jew' is her diametric opposite - she tries to make everyone like her; he tries to have a fight with everyone - they soon end up as girlfriend and boyfriend, but the path of true love is far from straight.

Which is why, Katz - together with her subconscious, which features as a separate voice in the play and might easily be interchangeably labelled as her muse (it convinces her that she cannot write and also find happiness with a soulmate [should I mention that there is one other character that appears from time to time on stage - an 'apocalyptic bear'?]) - ends up in a blizzard on a Churchill scholarship in New York. On impulse, she decides to consult a psychic called Cookie, who operates on 14th Street and offers Katz a tarot reading for $40, a palm reading for $30 or a special deal of the two together for $90, which is what Katz gamely accepts.

Cookie explains that she will tell Katz everything, the good and the bad, and expresses the hope that Katz is prepared. Katz, who does a wonderful Bronx accent when playing the part of Cookie, is not prepared at all. Fortunately, Cookie prophesies nothing but good for Katz - a wonderfully successful career, plus a husband and three children. Then she drops the bombshell - Katz has a curse on her and her phenomenally perfect future will only come to pass if she - Katz - pays Cookie a great deal of money to remove the curse.

Katz doesn't have the money. Katz tries to get the money. Katz is persuaded against getting the money. Katz can't stop thinking about the curse. Katz ends up consulting other psychics and healers, wasting lots of money, hilariously, imagining various illnesses are the result of their efforts, imagining her reconciliation with 'the full Jew' are the result of the curse being lifted - and on and on.

The play is funny - and has special appeal for me as a resident of both Canberra and Hungary. Katz makes you laugh often as she exposes her dilemma - the dilemma of all writers - which is that, instead of living her life, she observes herself living her life and fears that if she ever plunges in and just lives she will no longer write. Whether it is more than an extended piece of stand up, I'm uncertain, and whether an extended piece of stand up is any less worthy than a 'proper play' whatever that might be I'm not sure either. Given Katz's less than robust self-esteem, perhaps the best thing I can do is take my cue from Emperor Franz Joseph and say: Es war sehr schön, es hat mich sehr gefreut!