AREA STAGE SCORES WITH SHOCKING BUT HILARIOUS KVETCH

From: The Miami Herald
Date: November 14, 1992
Author: Christine Dolan

So you say your wife never has dinner on the table when you get home, and when it comes, it looks like burnt mush. And your husband pays you a romantic courtesy call maybe once a month, if you’re lucky. And your mother-in-law has more gas than Chevron, a fact you’re reminded of over dinner every damned Friday. And you’re panic-stricken at accepting a dinner invitation because if you do, oh God, you’ll have to reciprocate and you just can’t handle that!

Calm down already. Steven Berkoff understands.

Berkoff’s Kvetch, which has just opened at Miami Beach’s Area Stage, is a kind of owner’s manual of free-floating anxiety. Hilarious and deliberately offensive, it bridges the vast chasm between what we say and what we think.

There’s no easy way to describe the plot of Kvetch,
because the absurdist play constantly stutters back and forth between interactive scenes and monologues revealing the hysterically agonized tapes constantly playing in the characters’ heads.

Frank (Chaz Mena) is a Jewish salesman, a blustering basket case who’s never, ever happy. His wife Donna (Karen Gordon) is a nervous wreck as she anticipates Frank’s next tirade, which should occur in two seconds from whenever. Donna’s mom (Ellen Davis) comes to dinner once a week because she thinks she should, not because she wants to, and her daughter’s lousy cooking provokes a symphony of belches and worse. Hal (Dennis Hall), Frank’s soon-to-be-single co-worker, reluctantly comes to dinner, erroneously imagines Frank and Donna to be a charming couple, and drives himself mad with feelings of withering inadequacy. George (Mike Benitez), a cigar-chomping businessman who shows up later, takes pleasure sticking it to Frank and Donna, in different ways.

Berkoff’s stylistic device, which admittedly wears thin now and then, must have been a real killer for director John Rodaz and the cast to master. The playwright rapidly flips from words to the thoughts behind them. Whenever someone voices his or her inner thoughts, the others freeze, the focal character goes nuts, then the action resumes. It requires split-second timing and concentration, and Rodaz has coached his actors to near- perfection.

Mena, Gordon and Hall give the key performances, and they’re a fabulously matched trio. Mena, who just won the Carbonell Award as last season’s best actor for Lisbon Traviata at Area Stage, speaks in a kind of Cuisinart accent (Jewish New Yorker, lapsing into vaguely British speech) but clearly articulates Frank’s constant, frenzied rage. Gordon plays a princess turned bitter, and her deft delivery of two sex-fantasy monologues makes the speeches simultaneously funny and erotic. Hall, with popping eyes and a fixed grin, just looks hilarious, and he makes Hal a man who can barely conceal an ongoing, lifelong nervous breakdown. Darin Jones’ set design is as unorthodox as the play: a giant, crimson-lipped screaming mouth that spews forth these kvetching characters.

A word of warning: If you can’t take nasty humor about Jews, “shiksas,” blacks, old people, bodily functions, gay urges, sex and so on, stay away from Kvetch, ’cause you’ll be enraged. But if you can, go for it. Area’s got another hit.

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