A small sparse stage with chairs scattered about and around a standup piano, a table and what we soon learn are Iraqi style drums, greet us until Moneka’s mellifluous voice takes over. We don’t understand the Arabic lyrics, but we do get the overflowing affect that reaches out to grab us.
Then Bockley’s script weaves in the story of real-world actor Moneka, who came to the Toronto Film Festival representing a controversial film – the first in Iraq—acknowledging Iraqi gays. The reaction from the homophobic powers that be in Iraq was such that he never returned, for fear—well-founded we learn in the script—that he would literally be cut into little pieces quite if he did. Good natured but homesick, he strikes up a fast friendship with fellow actor LaVercombe, who is waiting for his big break into film and trying to get past his anxiety attacks along the way.
You too may want to do a quick dive into Wikipedia for Cliff Notes on the Epic of Gilgamesh before you see this joint effort by playwright Seth Bockley and his two musician/actor collaborators, Jesse LaVercombe and Ahmed Moneka. Truth to tell, you don’t need to. What is happening when is entirely clear, even with the actors often flipping timelines and characters within a sentence. Rather than confuse, this rapid back and forth keeps you engaged. More, if you don’t know a tad about the Epic of Gilgamesh poem, it quickly will be recognizable as an archetypical hero story. Billed as the oldest known literary work, it made this writer want to google the datestamp on Homer’s Odyssey, which somehow seems like a story line that could have been conjured by the very same hero-obsessed male author. At least that’s what one imagines Jung, Freud and Campbell might think too.
Here though--both in the recreated Gilgamesh tale and in the modern day male friendship on display in this story--the two men love each other dearly and clearly. It’s tender. It's compelling. It’s a tale—or rather two tales- well-told, in this writer's view.
That it ends with LaVercombe’s piano totally in sync and complementing Moneka’s song and drums strikes as a perfect sum-it-up metaphor for the work as a whole.