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Posts Tagged ‘Jenna Augen’

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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Why do we get so many revivals by playwrights like Chekhov and Pinter and hardly ever see plays by British 20th century playwrights like Arnold Wesker?

This excellent 1958 play tells the story of an East End Jewish family over 20 years, cleverly bookended by the fascist march at Cable Street in 1936 (and the communist reaction) and the communist repression in Hungary (after the defeat of fascism in the second world war). The great success of the play is that the domestic sits comfortably with the history; indeed they each add something to the other – the perspective of the times in which they live for the family’s story and placing a family into history to bring it alive. The picture it manages to paint in six surprisingly short scenes is both vivid and epic.

Samantha Spiro’s Sarah is the family’s anchor and her performance is outstanding. I’ve mostly seen her in comedy and musicals before, so its great to see her as capable at drama (her beaming smiles at the curtain call reminded me of Clare Higgins). Danny Webb is also superb as the less sympathetic character of Harry, making an extraordinary journey from politically passionate but fundamentally lazy husband to a sad disabled incontinent old man. Jenna Augen and Tom Rosenthal make auspicious professional debuts as daughter and son Ada and Ronnie, as does Joel Gillman as young political activist Dave.

Dominic Cook gives the play the impeccable attention to detail we’ve come to expect after Now or Later and Clybourne Park and Ultz’ sets are brilliantly evocative. I can’t wait to see The Kitchen at the NT later in the year, but will someone please revive the other two parts of the trilogy that this forms the first part of please!

Another very satisfying evening at the Royal Court.

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