Playwright Lally Katz delivers truths stranger than fiction
Lally Katz’s star is on the rise: over the last two years, Melbourne’s Malthouse commissioned and then produced her play A Golem Story; Griffin staged a remount of her short play Smashed; Belvoir put on an enormously successful season of her semi-autobiographical play Neighbourhood Watch, starring Robyn Nevin; and Melbourne Theatre Company put on her play Return To Earth. This year, she has plays on at Griffin, Belvoir, and Malthouse.
But it’s not all peaches – not all of the time. Stories I Want To Tell You In Person is a fascinating peek behind the scenes of the last few years of Lally’s life, and the insecure, financially fraught and emotionally raw life of a writer – from the hit plays (Neighbourhood Watch) to the “failures” (Return To Earth, which will play at Griffin later this year); from the times of plenty (New York circa 2011, when she dropped several thousand dollars on psychics and curse removals) to the times of poverty (financial management isn’t Lally’s strong suit, it seems); from the self-sabotaged relationships (she has had a bad habit of plundering her boyfriends for character detail and then running away before she gets too emotionally invested) to her current long-term relationship with “The Full Jew”.
Anyone who’s seen Lally’s work (the fantastical Apocalypse Bear Trilogy particularly comes to mind, not least because the Bear makes an appearance in this show) will not be terribly surprised to find that the playwright believes in magic, consults healers and psychics, is totally impractical, and just generally a bit messy at life. What she is good at is packaging her experiences into tales of humour and pathos. This play is an embodiment of that, while also dealing with her growing concern – or creative crisis, even – that living everything you write might not be sustainable in the long term.
The narrative pivots on several visits to psychics in an attempt to break a curse on her love-life/vagina (including Cookie, a New Yorker whose voice – per Lally – is a dead ringer for Iona in Pretty in Pink), which provide memorable detours on Lally’s walk down memory lane. She’s a charismatic, lovable host (her atonal, arrhythmic karaoke rendition of a hopped up electronica version of Madonna’s ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ is about as endearing as it gets), and combined with the rare chance to see how writersreally live and work (broken deadlines and procrastinatory cleaning sprees aren’t even the half of it), this show is pure entertainment.
Anne-Louise Sarks, Belvoir’s new resident director, and artistic director Ralph Myers, taking design duties, keep things pretty simple for Belvoir’s downstairs, with just enough playful, meta-theatrical staging and cues to remind us that Lally’s out of her comfort zone – but also, paradoxically, right in it.
This review was originally published in Time Out Sydney.