Muslim boy meets Jewish girl. Mush is loud. Gabrielle is clever. She’s too good for that job in the call centre. He’s cocky. She’s intrigued. And why wouldn’t she be interested in someone who teases her with charming lines such as “Don’t take the piss out of my prophet, you slag”? Actually, I meant, why on earth would she be? Beats me.
The premise of Mush and Me is perfect romantic comedy material. Good thing Mush turns out to be a bit smarter than he initially seems, with performer David Mumeni infusing a lot of warmth into the role of the obnoxious but lovable character.
The two start bonding over food: good hummus, forbidden pork and a romantic fast-breaking on the beach. And then they argue playfully about the differences in their religions with their shared origins but wildly differing practices. The show’s interfaith relationship focus taps into very recent discussions around events of religiously motivated military conflicts and how personal stories of people around the world are impacted by them. Misgivings seep into moments of intimacy and family expectations cloud ideas of a shared future.
Writer Karla Crome has a screenwriter’s ear for sharp dialogue. She knows how to deftly twist genre stereotypes of rom com storytelling around the central issue, although stylistically there’s nothing revelatory or subtle in this play. When funny it elicits belly laughter from the whole audience but when it turns sincere it doesn’t quite pack a punch. It’s never quite clear what these lovers have to loose apart from their parents’ approval. This is, granted, no small issue but the way this conflict is negotiated never takes off to any particularly relevant heights.
During the scene changes we see the two practice their religious rituals in dignified silence and then hear interview recordings from real life interfaith couples hovering over that. These subtly lit interjections feel like an attempt to romanticise and lessen the hardship that religious dogma inflicts on the lovers.
Rather surprisingly it’s the idea that love should conquer all that doesn’t quite come into its own here. When Mush accuses her of cowardly hiding him from her family he doesn’t seem to be aware of the pressure on a woman in an interfaith relationship and then he goes on to exert some more. As the play progresses the initially strong and clever Gabby gets
taken down a peg or two and through her involvement with Mush looses some of her agency. Should she tell her dying father about Mush? Why is this God she doesn’t even believe in cruel? These are personal struggles projected against a dogmatic canvas. Danielle Isaacs plays Gabby’s journey with the urgency needed when competing with the zingers dished out by her male counterpart.
Mush and Me – part of the RADAR festival at the Bush – is sincere in its sentiments, well acted and has two well-rounded characters at its centre but crucially it fails to tell us anything new; the importance of tolerance and open-mindedness in interfaith encounters is something, however, that bears repeating.