Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
Experimental immersive art designed to engage the senses
M: Kaddish for the Children is an experimental art installation and performance piece by Deborah Leiser-Moore, and is part of FCAC's 2019 Women, Art & Politics (WAP) program. The piece seeks to draw a contrast between historical misogyny and contemporary feminism through the lens of a fusion between Greek mythology (Euripides' Medea text) and Jewish cultural practice (the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning) in the context of a modern couple's domestic life. It is performed by real-life wife and husband team, Deborah Leiser-Moore and Richard Moore.
In the foyer before the start of the show, we're informed that this is an immersive performance and that we're invited to experience the first ten or fifteen minutes of the performance standing up, walking around, and engaging with the set as a sort of art installation (but that we can choose to take our seats anytime before we're formally invited to, if we wish). Upon entering the performance space, it is easy to see why this is so - the set is beautifully elaborate and has many intriguing elements, and fills almost the whole space, making it easier to take in while walking around rather than seated in one spot. Deborah Leiser-Moore, at one end of the space, is seen to be of traditional appearance, working at a large pile of ashen wood mulch with a shovel, occasionally wheeling it over to a much larger, scaled-up version of the same kind of mulch in the middle of the room, reminiscent of a large grave. Next to where she is working is a contemporary kitchen set up. Richard Moore is at the opposite end of the space, of modern appearance, exercising on a hydraulic rowing machine. At both ends of the space, there are LCD screens.
The performance itself is interesting and varied, even if abstract and somewhat absurd. It begins with an introduction to the story of Medea as written by Euripides, and progresses with playing out various elements of it in the style of a modern reimagination. The artistic and sensory side of the show packs in a lot - there is regular use of the LCD screens both to magnify stage action as well as to play video clips and display messages, there is a varied audio soundtrack combining different styles of music as well as playing religiously inspired audio, there is creative use of aromatic herbs to fill the space with a powerful calming smell, and there are various surprise elements in use for lighting and movement and action around the space, all of which together form a lot of interesting sensory art for the audience to take in. Leiser-Moore and Moore deliver engaging performances.
Where the show falls short, however, is in its development of its characters and narrative. The text is unfocused and feels almost like an afterthought as if it exists mainly to string together all the other artistic ideas that have been developed to be experienced in the space. The story felt incoherent, and I could not see opportunities to get truly invested in either of the two characters. There were some intriguing religious and cultural symbols beautifully portrayed over the course of the hour - such as the use of a coarse-looking sponge dipped in water to wash each other's feet and arms and face, and the use of a long red ribbon to tourniquet an arm in the course of grieving - but these symbols were not really explained, which was a disappointment.
There was also one unexpected audience participation element later on in the show, which didn't seem integral to the show but caused me anxiety for two reasons - firstly, because the audience members who were called up on stage without warning did not seem to have much opportunity to say no, and secondly, because their participation involved the handling of cooked eggs, which wouldn't be a huge deal to most people (except perhaps people with egg allergies), but it can be a deeply sensitive matter for people of my cultural background. I don't begrudge the show for including this element of course, but I was grateful to not be among the people put on the spot/invited to participate.
M: Kaddish for the Children is built on a promising concept and has some beautiful artistic elements and entertaining moments, but in its present form it feels underdeveloped story-wise, mildly confronting participation-wise, and in the end as an overall experience, unsatisfying.