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Posts Tagged ‘Ilan Goodman’

I finally caught up with this much talked about play (with the somewhat controversial title) on its transfer to the Arts Theatre. Thankfully. Such a good piece of writing and four terrific performances.

A New York Jewish family gather for Shiva, the one week mourning observed by close family, after the death of their grandfather, a holocaust survivor. We only meet the three grandchildren, and the girlfriend of one of them. Daphna is intelligent, traditional and brittle; she could disagree about an agreement. Her cousin Liam is the elder of two brothers, the blue-eyed boy, also intelligent, just as brittle but certainly not traditional – he’s going to marry a gentile. Jonah is as passive as they come, in Liam’s shadow, saying anything to Daphna for a quiet life. His favourite phrase is ‘I don’t want to get involved’. Liam’s girlfriend Melody is an archetypal suburban American dumb blonde.

The story revolves around who gets grandad’s Hy (?spelling), a gold item with great sentimental value. Liam wants to use it in place of an engagement ring, as grandad did. Daphna believes she is entitled, as the only religiously observant one. Jonah doesn’t want to get involved. It gets very heated, with Liam and Daphna at war, Jonah balancing precariously on the fence and Liam’s intended in shock – families don’t fight like this in her world. Though it’s a thoroughly Jewish story, replace the item and the cultural references and it could be any family.

All four performers are outstanding. Jenna Augen oozes authenticity as Daphna, which I suspect comes from her own background, and is more controlled in her anger than Ilan Goodman who is otherwise excellent as Liam. Gina Bramhill captures that American everygirl perfectly, with facial expressions that get as many laughs as the lines, and Joe Coen is brilliantly restrained as the one who doesn’t want to get involved. Michael Longhurst’s staging, in Richard Kent’s superb cramped NYC apartment, is as finely detailed as the performances and the Arts Theatre is just the right size for you to see this unfold with enough intimacy to make a big impact.

I think this is playwright Joshua Harmon’s first play. I can’t wait to see how he develops.

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It’s great that we’ve got theatres like the Park & St. James that can bring small scale shows in from outer London and the regions quickly. The thought of London missing out on this little gem from Bath, now a regional powerhouse, is inconceivable.

The play tells the story of Esther, who traveled from Carolina to New York City in her teens, after the death of her mother. In Mrs Dixon’s rooming house she works as a seamstress and is shown how to make intimate apparel, a lucrative line. When we meet her she is 35, successful (she has saved a veritable fortune) but unmarried. We meet two of her clients, a wealthy but unhappy society woman and a prostitute. We also meet orthodox Jew Mr Marks from whom she procures all her fabric. They share a love of fine cloth and there is a certain frisson between them. She receives a letter from a labourer on the Panama Canal who becomes her pen pal, though others have to read his letters and write her replies as she can’t. He proposes by letter, she accepts, he arrives in New York, they marry and her world is turned upside down.

It’s slow to take off, but when it does its a captivating and deeply moving story. There are only six characters but a lot of short scenes and a lot of locations, but with a clever design (Mark Bailey) it doesn’t lose pace in Laurence Boswell’s fine staging. Tanya Moodie is sensational in the lead role; she plays it with such delicacy and conviction. Chu Omambala as George has great presence, though I occasionally struggled with his accent, as I think he did! Dawn Hope is a lovely contrast as Mrs Dixon, who confides in Esther and relies on her. Further contrast comes with her unlikely friendship with prostitute Mayme, beautifully played by Rochelle Neil. There are fine supporting performances from Sara Topham as wealthy Mrs Van Buren and Ilan Goodman (a bit of a dead ringer for his dad Henry, who was in the audience last night) as Mr Marks.

This is a very different piece from other Lynn Nottage plays that have crossed the Atlantic – Fabulation and Ruined – and there seem to be another half-dozen plays we haven’t seen yet. She’s a fine playwright, so let’s see them please!

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