Osamah Sami takes his award-winning memoir, Good Muslim Boy to the stage with energy and heartfelt drive in Janice Muller’s adaptation.
By Caitlin McGrane
It took me several days to process Good Muslim Boy – not because I didn’t enjoy it, but rather because I needed to let it soak into my bones. I found the frenetic energy of the 85-minute play needed to be left to sink in, so I could fully absorb what it was saying.
The play opens in an airport terminal in Tehran, Iran as Osamah (Osamah Sami) is attempting to transport his father’s body home to Melbourne, Australia. Even in this early stage of the drama, his exhaustion is palpable.
Osamah was born in Iran to Iraqi parents, and grew up during the First Gulf War under the Iranian religious regime. Many years later, after they had emigrated to Australia, his father arranges an impromptu trip back to Iran in an attempt to help Osamah reconnect to himself and his family. It’s on this trip that his father suddenly dies and needs to be expatriated back to Australia.
The action flashes backwards and forwards through Osamah’s relationship with his parents, particularly his father – deftly played by Rodney Afif – and his lengthy and deeply painful experience bringing his father home. Nicole Nabout shines as the third player and moves perfectly between characters – from Osamah’s sports-mad mother to a grumpy bus driver with barely a lag.
Set and costume designer Romanie Harper has done amazing work smoothing the transitions between scenes and characters with visual cues, while lighting (Ben Hughes) and sound (Phil Slade) complemented Afif, Nabout and Sami as they moved quickly and precisely around the stage.
For me the overwhelming energy of the play belies its narrative potential. There was so much movement between one disapproving, dismissive Iranian bureaucrat and the next that I could barely keep up with additional details that were meant to add texture to the story.
Comments from Iranian officials about the appalling treatment of refugees in Australia didn’t quite ring true for me because they weren’t given enough time to breathe – Osamah had to move on, had another stamp to get or document signed.
In the end I found myself wishing I was reading the book, so I could absorb everything that Sami needed to say. His story is so profoundly moving that I felt it deserved a more drawn out exploration. But, I still highly recommend Good Muslim Boy for both its pathos and empathy for all its characters (even the disagreeable officials), as well as for the obvious, heartfelt drive that keeps Osamah Sami telling his family’s story.
Good Muslim Boy plays at Malthouse until 11 March. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9685 5111.