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A play in the life of Lally Katz

Lally Katz in performance Photo Heidrun Lor.

Lally Katz in performance Photo Heidrun Lor.   | Photo Credit: 04DMC Lally Katz 3

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“Stories I Want to Tell You In Person”, performed at the 18th Bharat Rang Mahotsav, is a frank, honest and hilarious account of one woman’s journey as she navigates love, life and fortune tellers

When the Australian theatre company, Belvoir, commissioned one of Australia’s most acclaimed playwrights Lally Katz, to write for them, they were looking for a script that would talk about the Global Financial Crisis. Now, Lally did write that play, but, as she puts it, “they didn't like it”. What they did like, though, were all the honest, funny, outrageous stories Lally told them; stories about her own experiences with the fortune teller she visited in New York while working on her script. Somewhere along the line, the commission she was working on had taken Lally to the doorsteps of this psychic, and she had, over time, become “obsessed”, seeking answers about her life and romances.

Brenna Hobson, Belvoir’s Executive Director, laughs when she remembers Lally's stories. “While the play on the financial crisis that she wrote for us was fascinating stuff, it wasn't going to be ready for the next year. But sitting down, talking to Lally, we got really excited about what she was talking about. Her tales were so gripping and unusual. In fact, if someone else had shared them, I'd say they were pulling my leg. But this was Lally, and we knew they were all true.”

Honesty seems to sit at the heart of Lally's work. Created from these many, many personal experiences, “Stories I Want to Tell You in Person” is a one woman show which works as a play, but is really a conversation; the kind of conversation, Lally tells me, she'd have with all her friends back then. “I was so obsessed; I'd talk to anybody and start telling them about these things that were happening.” The play, a complete accident to begin with, became an instant success, and has been since then critically acclaimed, performed across the world and adapted for the screen. It has now travelled to India for a five city tour supported by the Australia India Council and the Australian High Commission which began with a performance at the National School of Drama's 18th Bharat Rang Mahotsav.

Once Belvoir had decided to create a new play documenting these stories, Lally, along with her director and friend Anne-Louise Sarks got to work. Of course, there was the question of the voice, which had so far been authentic, natural and effortless. Would it change if these stories were written, instead of told? “We were worried about that,” Lally says, “I felt that they were better when I was just saying them, but Anne-Louise reminded me that if I were to perform this, night after night, I'd need a structure.”

So Sarks came up with the solution. She would get Lally to talk, and write down everything she said. “Then she would read everything back to me so I could see how it sounded.” The script developed slowly, and one of the most interesting things about it, Sarks adds, was trying to find “a through line”, a connecting point that would develop the arc of the play. “This was tough, because what we were putting together was essentially Lally's life, where we were cherry picking these exciting moments. But we were also working with something that wasn't stopping, that didn't have an end point. These things in her life were still evolving”, says Sarks. She adds that the most important part of creating the script was to get Lally to dig deeper, and be even more honest than she had first been. “This became one of the most exciting things about the play, and one of the biggest reasons why people respond to it so openly.”

As far as Lally was concerned, the entire thing had begun because of what she now remembers as a low point in her life. “I was kind of lost and seeking answers. And they (psychics), certainly offer that. At the same time, I remember that as soon as I walked into the first psychic's place, I sort of felt the atmosphere change, the way it does when I meet a character I love. I thought, 'yeah, you.” The experience became important to her both as a woman and a writer. “But then, the writer part of me usually only gets involved when my heart is involved too. I need the two to go together.”

So Lally told her stories, and in doing so, shared her life with the audience. Today, things have obviously changed in her life, and while the entire project started 3 to 4 years ago, she says that it is surprisingly easy to become an old version of herself. “As long as I am in it and performing, I am surprised by how much I still care about this stuff. I had thought it would be weird and distant.” She also admits that the experience was cathartic. “I understood myself a whole lot better.” The risk, of course, was that the regular reliving of this period in her life would keep her from moving on. “It did happen for a while. For a year there, I was performing the play almost all the time, and it meant staying emotionally attached to the people mentioned it it. Then I'd have a couple of months off and think I've moved on. Then I'd perform it again and say, oh, I still love him!”

“We were also talked a lot about how it would be for Lally, to get this direct feedback from the audience, and the critics.” After all, the play was entirely about her life, so the concern was a big one. But Lally says that whether this play or any other she has worked on, she feels each review. “Most reviews didn't talk about my life, except once in a while they'd assume something wasn't true, when every thing in this play is true.”

Sarks also tried to introduce elements in the play that would share in the telling and support Lally, so it didn't remain a one on one conversation. “There was very little desire to change the actual facts, but we played with form and experimented with different ways of telling the story. There are a few characters who visit the show, channelled through Lally, and then there is the Apocalypse bear, who is one of Lally's stock characters, an imaginary friend. We initially put him in as a joke, because he never makes it to any play. Then, when he was in, we got excited about what else we could do with him.” Lally laughingly adds that these host of invisible characters means that she is always surprised when at the end of the play, she bows alone. “I think, where did everyone else go!”

Considering that the play is about Lally as she navigates her love life and her relationships and a lost phase in her life, she had thought that while the audience would find it funny and quirky, it would remain a play about her. “Instead,” says Sarks, “she found that the audience would come to her after the play and tell her how they’d seen themselves in the play. I think this is because while the play is all about Lally, it also has a kind of universal heart that resonates with the audience. It is one woman, telling her story about her work and her love life and her place in the world. How can it not resonate?”

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 4:05:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/a-play-in-the-life-of-lally-katz/article8188797.ece

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