Salonika Bound by Tom Petsinis

Salonika Bound by Tom Petsinis
Directed by David Myles. La Mama Courthouse, Melbourne until 8 August

Much of the power of great writing for the theatre comes from the juxtaposition of what is and what is not said – often associated with the vastly under-rated and consistently under-utilised skills of the Dramaturg. In Mr Petsinis’s case, there is an utterly compelling case for him to forge such a relationship because while his latest play Salonika Bound has flashes of brilliance, it is also constantly undermined by verbosity, repetition and simply too much tedious exposition. Equal parts memory play, reunion drama, chamber musical and history lesson, it also continues the disturbing trend of Melbourne playwrights borrowing observation from the vast human tragedy of the Holocaust, without honouring the complexity of its political, human or social context – either then, or more importantly in a contemporary theatrical context, now.

Achilles Yiangoulli and Argyris Argyropoulos’s songs are pretty, lyrical and melodic – but they do absolutely nothing to advance the plot, and Mr Myles’s direction is too frequently sabotaged by their placement which only serves to ensure that the performance grounds swiftly and completely to a halt. It is only when Laura Lattuada rediscovers her voice at the end of the performance, that the musical element makes sense, but it’s a small price to pay for having had to sit through the interminable musical interludes that also had everyone else on stage treading water for long periods of embarrassingly vacant time.

Antonios Baxevanidis’s performance, however, of the play’s dramatic highpoint – a monologue about the significance of the number tattooed on his arm – was immensely powerful, as was the scene where Mike McEvoy’s ‘James’, Bruce Kerr’s ‘Dimitri’ and Ms Lattuada’s ‘Helen’ debated the essence of the traditional value and cultural significance of a name. It was only these two scenes that resulted in any cultural illumination, and it is a great pity that Mr Petsinis didn’t explore this rich territory of identity more adventurously.

Marshall White’s set and video design was excellent – particularly the way the suggestion of the tiles on the floor were extended into the appearance of crucifixes on the wall.

No doubt the cast will settle into the rough and ready rhythm of the piece as the season progresses, but this is strictly theatre for the converted: those who desire to stare into the mirror of their own cultural imperatives. For the rest of us, it offers only a hint of illumination – even though there is something of a really fascinating idea struggling to get out from underneath simply too many well-intentioned words and far too many songs.

Geoffrey Williams

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