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Hilarious and heartbreaking
Good Muslim Boy - Osamah Sami and Rodney Afif by Tim Grey
You might already know Osamah Sami's work – from his regular appearances on Australian film and TV, to his award winning 2017 film Ali's Wedding, to his memoir, Good Muslim Boy, Sami's creative output seems boundless and always deeply personal. But none of those creative ventures feels quite as intimate as this production of Good Muslim Boy, a partnership between Sami and co-writer and director Janice Muller.
Focusing on a single part of Sami's memoir, Good Muslim Boy charts his journey to Iran with his father, during which his father unexpectedly passes away. The entire play then becomes a race against the clock, navigating bureaucracy, international customs and grief all at once. Jumping back and forth in time, the play depicts Sami's stages of mourning in the immediate aftermath of his beloved father's death, during which he is deprived of the opportunity to break down and fully experience his emotions.
The play's brilliance lies in its ability to depict this intensely personal and stressful experience, whilst also being warm and funny. It would be easy for this to become a dry meditation on mourning, but Sami's cheeky grin and sense of humour stops the play from taking itself too seriously. The script has obviously been written with a Malthouse theatre audience in mind – one that may not necessarily understand or recognise all of the customs and history of Iran. The play signposts and generously explains certain aspects of Sami's life and history, particularly in the beginning, but doesn't spell-out everything, allowing the play to maintain its momentum.
Good Muslim Boy - Osamah Sami, Rodney Afif & Nicole Nabout by Tim Grey
Good Muslim Boy's greatest strength is its ensemble cast, featuring Sami himself alongside Rodney Afif and Nicole Nabout. In particular, the relationship between Sami and Afif as his father feels genuine and strengthens the play's emotional pull. Afif and Nabout employ great dexterity, swapping between characters with ease and seamlessly employing transitions to relocate the play's time and space. Designer Romini Harper's set is put to great use, a very simple design that moves easily between locations, but always evoking those spaces where time doesn't move, places like train stations and waiting rooms. Indeed, one of Good Muslim Boy's most effective motifs is its creation of liminal or in-between spaces – much of the play takes place in a kind of purgatory while Sami's father is unable to be brought home and put to rest. This heightens the other elements of the in-between we see in Sami's life – in between Australia and Iran, in between a relationship and single, in between his role as a father and son. Director Janice Muller has obviously taken great care with this play to honour the true story at its core. The result is a polished production that always feels like a testament to the relationship between a father and son.
Good Muslim Boy is a play about grief, uncertainty and cultural displacement. To watch a performer share something so deeply personal with their audience is a very special occasion, and one that allows us an insight into a life that could be different to our own in many ways, but that still resonates with each of us. In the end, that's what allows Good Muslim Boy to retain its sense of universality – an audience member may never have fled Iran as a child, undergone a marriage breakup, or had to transport a parent's dead body back to their home, but the twin languages of grief and the black humour that can come out of it feel intrinsically human.