On the evening of 16 October 1972, Wael Zuaiter, a Palestinian intellectual, was shot and killed by two Israeli Mossad agents in Rome. Earlier that night he had been with his Australian fiancé, painter Janet venn Brown.
Wael Zuaiter: Unknown is a complex and extremely conflicted story as told by venn Brown’s great nephew Jesse Cox, a freelance radio producer. Part political thriller, part love story, Cox takes the audience on a historical journey for more than an hour.
Simply staged, Cox has developed a well structured narrative with co-director Mark Pritchard that is complimented by a haunting soundscape by Joff Bush, and integrates a number of recorded interviews with venn Brown, Zuaiter’s siblings, Palestinian artist Emily Jacir and journalist Aaron Klein.
It is all set against a stunning visual backdrop of illustrations by Matt Huynh and Aldous Massie, with animations by Benjamin Zaugg, that enhances the spoken word.
Right from the outset we are engaged with his telling of the enchanting tale of Scheherazade and One Thousand and One Nights. One can ask how does this fit in? As the work draws near to its close, we find out its relevance – a book Zuaiter had on him when he was shot 12 times as he waited for an elevator to his apartment near Piazza Avellino, in which he was in the process of translating from Arabic to Italian.
Quietly confident, Cox’s story-telling is genuinely warm and multilayered. The recorded interviews add a layer of authenticity and a window into another time and culture. Zuaiter’s partner for eight years, venn Brown was one of the last people to see him alive. Now in her 90s, Cox does well to gently pry out details of Zuaiter’s life from her. One can sense the lingering sadness of his death and the unforgiving loss to this day.
As with most pieces based on true accounts, there can be more questions than there are answers, given the Mossad file on Zuaiter is still classified. However, with all the elements noted above, Wael Zuaiter: Unknown provides an intriguingly satisfying evening in the theatre.
Writer and Co-Director: Jesse Cox Co-Director and Dramaturg: Mark Pritchard Script Editor: Que Minh Luu Illustrators: Matt Huynh & Aldous Massie Composer: Joff Bush Sound Design: Luke Mynott Set Design: Owen Phillips Lighting Design: Ben Shaw Animator: Benjamin Zaugg Stage Manager: Rebekah Gibbs
Wael Zuaiter: Unknown
Theatre Works, 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Season continues to 11 May 2014
Bookings: (03) 9534 3388 or online at: www.theatreworks.org.au
Image: Jesse Cox in Wael Zuaiter: Unknown – photo by Sarah Walker