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Lally Katz's 'Back At The Dojo'

Powerhouse theatre that cracks your heart wide open and throws you to the floor at the same time.


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Danny Katz is tenderly watching over his comatose wife Lois, when his transgender granddaughter Patti stumbles into the hospital room tripping on LSD. What follows is an emotional family journey through time and across continents that will provide you with laughter, frustration and tears – along with a liberal dose of karate, life lessons and words of wisdom.

Danny (Brian Lipson) realises Patti (Luke Mullens) is tripping, and is none too happy about it. But it is through Patti’s hallucinations that we head into the first of a number of flashbacks to 1960s USA where young Danny (Harry Greenwood) himself is experimenting with hallucinogens as he wanders, looking for purpose in his life. He eventually finds it back in his home state of New Jersey in the karate dojo run by an enigmatic sensei, beautifully played by Natsuko Mineghishi, a real life black belt.

The play’s scenes switch between present-day Australia and 1960s New Jersey, with much of the action taking place in the dojo. It’s fair to say, however, that a love of – or even an interest in –karate is not a requisite as the katas are seamlessly incorporated into the story as it unfolds before you.

It is through the dojo that Danny meets the lovely Lois (Catherine Davies), and as we shift between past and present, we see the development of Lois and young Danny’s sweet romance, and the evolution of old Danny’s acceptance that the person he once knew and loved as his grandson Patrick is now his granddaughter Patti, and the pair set about trying to repair their broken relationship.

Many may rightfully question the choice of a cis-male actor to play a transwoman, however, Luke Mullens’ performance as the Patti Smith wannabe is outstanding. It’s respectful and nuanced as he showcases the tragic and sometimes hysterical side of a woman with little self esteem who is falling apart after being dumped by her boyfriend. Patti had thought transitioning would solve all her problems, but she has realised she’s still searching for more from her life, and Mullens skillfully takes us on her journey with him.

Lally Katz’s latest work is not easy entertainment, it’s not traditional theatre, but it is edgy, confronting, raw and definitely must-see. I laughed and I cried and I absolutely recommend it.

‘Back at the Dojo’ is on at Belvoir St Theatre until 17th July.

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