Kvetch by Steven Berkoff
review by Michael Scott Moore
SF Weekly (May 6, 1998)
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- Starring Robert Mackey, Lol Levy, Priscilla Alden, Eloise B. Chitmon,
- The beautiful subtitle scene in Annie Hall, where Annie and Alvy lacquer
their mutual anxieties with insipid comments about photography, could have
inspired Kvetch. The subtitles in Annie Hall tell you what the characters
are feeling; in Kvetch, the dull social protocol freezes to let
the characters holler their anxieties at the audience. Its unnerving.
(I suppose both are homages as well to ONeills rather more
serious use of the device in Strange Interlude.) Kvetch ran
for several years at the Odyssey Theater in L.A., where I first saw it,
and I think the show succeeded mainly because the yelling is so outrageous.
Its not because of the story: A Jewish salesman with a nagging mother-in-law
invites a lonely business acquaintance over for dinner, and nobody knows
how to act.
The wife is afraid her meal is no good; the guest isnt even thinking
about the food; the mother-in-law keeps farting. Afterward, the husband
and wife have sex. Their anxieties are typical household kvetches you read
about in magazines, the kind of worries middle-class (especially Jewish)
people are supposed to have, and the kind of nonsense most people eventually
- The play is appealingly tasteless. During sex, Frank and Donna both
talk to the audience; when Donna straddles Frank she says, I wanna
be raped, and details her fantasies about the garbage men who come
noisily by in the morning. Her orgasm, which we get to watch, has less
to do with Frank than with these phantom garbage men. Then its Franks
turn. The dinner guest, Hal, makes an uninvited appearance in his fantasy,
and Franks orgasm also has very little to do with his wife. These
scenes are shocking and funny; but where they lead is finally disappointing.
Donna leaves Frank for another man and tells him shes learned not
to worry. You quit kvetching? says Frank. How?
Donna: By doing what I want and letting the guilt go fuck itself.
Not exactly A Dolls House.
- Teatro Shalom revived this play; theyre a multi-cultural
company interested in shows producible without regard to the
ethnicity of the actors. Here they also cast Eloise Chitmon across
gender lines, though she wasnt entirely convincing as a man. And
it has to be said that Robert Mackey sometimes looked more like a square-jawed
goy trying to be Jewish rather than a truly panicked schlemiel. Lines like
Suppose the bitch hasnt enough food cant be delivered
matter-of-factly or they risk just sounding offensive.
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