Towards the end of 2020, Lally Katz wrote a monologue for MTC that began as a reflection, from afar, on Melbourne during a time of great change and evolved into a waking dream about life, death, past, present and pandemics.
Though she was born in New Jersey, Lally Katz moved with her family to Australia as a child. She grew up in Canberra before relocating to Melbourne, where she built a career as one of Australia’s most unique and celebrated playwrights. A two-time winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Drama, Katz is perhaps best known to MTC audiences for her beloved shows Neighbourhood Watch (2014) and Minnie and Liraz (2017), as well as her one-woman show Stories I Want to Tell You in Person, which aired on ABC TV after an extensive live tour.
Five years ago, Katz departed Melbourne for the country of her birth, driven mostly by curiosity and a sense of adventure. ‘I was curious to see what would happen if I tried to make it in Hollywood, and work in TV,’ she says with a laugh. ‘I guess it was just a big question mark – like if I never tried it, I would probably regret it. I wanted an adventure in life and in work,’ she adds, noting that she was 36 when she moved and hadn’t met her soulmate in Australia yet so she thought ‘well, I’ll see what happens in the US.’ She’s now married and has a baby.
‘In the past year it’s been like time has stopped so your memories just go back, back, back, like through a funnel of time.’
While her marriage and baby happened fairly quickly, Hollywood and TV have been slower. ‘I knew it would be,’ she says, ‘because it’s always who you know; always always always.’ But she’s making good headway, and is currently working on a TV pilot based on the story of how she met her husband. ‘We got married about six weeks after we met,’ she explains. ‘I was working with these producers on another pilot and I told them this story and they immediately said: “That’s the story, that’s what we should do!”’
Katz has made her career mining her own life for stories, so although she admits to not being as comfortably familiar with the world of television as she is with theatre, she’s on solid ground with the content. ‘In Australia I was usually writing about aspects of my life,’ she notes. ‘And I guess that was another part of why I wanted to move as well: I wondered what I would write about in the US, what kind of characters would I meet.’
Life in the time of Corona
Although her new life in America has kept her physically distant from Australia, Katz has stayed spiritually close. She continued to ‘do a lot of theatre in Australia’ and her family and friends remain here. ‘Australia always felt like home. I’ve been here now for five years and I was born here but I lived 28 years of my life in in Australia, and my family’s there and so much of my career, and my friends are there. And even though it’s a long flight it always felt so close,’ she says. ‘But now it feels so far away.’
She’s referring, of course, to the travel obstacles thrown up by the pandemic, but also to administrative hurdles such as her husband’s American citizenship application and her infant son’s need for a passport. Zoom has obviously helped her stay in touch with her hometown over the past year, but Katz also sought the comfort of the familiar in her dreams and memories.
‘In the past year it’s been like time has stopped so your memories just go back, back, back, like through a funnel of time,’ she muses. ‘But the nice and horrible thing about the pandemic is that all of humanity is going through it,’ she muses. ‘We’re all in it together, so sometimes I feel like there’s some common consciousness, like in your dreams. Every night when I dream I hang out with people from different times in my life and really specific locations, and it’s like we’re all meeting up in the common consciousness or something.’
‘2020 was just such a weird year. It’s like we all became astronauts, with no connection to time. I think it definitely changed my imagination in some way.’
For Katz, that meant spending a lot of her dream time back in Melbourne, with familiar people and places. Except, of course, none of it was familiar, and now there was added anxiety thanks to the nature of 2020. So when MTC Associate Director Petra Kalive contacted Katz about working together on something, the playwright pitched those dreams as her starting point.
The result is a recorded monologue, directed by Kalive, read by Emily Goddard and with sound design by Emah Fox. ‘The monologue was based on seeing somewhere that I knew so well from a very different lens,’ she explains. ‘It’s about how much people, and places, change when you don’t see them for a long time, and how much you change too. It’s about how you’re sort of recognisable to each other but also not recognisable to each other at the same time. So I guess it was coming from that feeling of a familiar place that felt very close but suddenly all you can do is visit in your dreams.’
The way time unspools in our dreams reflects the weird experience most of us had with the real thing in 2020 (Katz compares it to the theoretical experience of being pulled into a black hole and being elongated and ‘spaghettified’), lending the year a uniquely surreal feel. No stranger to exploring the surreal in her earlier work, Katz notes wryly that 2020 may have pushed her back in that direction again. ‘I have felt as if maybe for a few years, my work was moving into more of a naturalistic style – but with a maybe little sprinkling of magic realism. But then 2020, it was just such a weird year. It’s like we all became astronauts, with no connection to time. I think it definitely changed my imagination in some way. And definitely in the piece I wrote for MTC, magic realism and surrealism became more natural to me again.’
Published on 27 January 2021