Tuesday, April 5, 2011

One of Ours at Winnipeg Jewish Theatre

On a cold and snowy April afternoon I headed off to see Michael Nathanson's latest play ONE OF OURS at the WJT.

Billed as a comedy, the play is set at the posh cottage belonging to one of a pair of fractious brothers. The oldest brother, a dreamer and a ne'er do well has brought his very young, gentile actress girlfriend from New York home to West Hawk Lake to meet his brother, the business tycoon and his trophy wife sister-in-law. Complications ensue.

Indeed. This is a well-intentioned offering and certainly anyone with siblings will find plenty to relate to in this drawing room comedy about money, mores and familial expectations. The actors are a game lot: I particularly liked the oldest brother.

However, this type of thing is extremely tricky to pull off. In spite of a talented cast and some good material, I found it mostly fell flat.

The writer has functioned as the director and that's rarely a good idea. I speak from experience when I say it's hard to direct something you've written yourself. I think an outside eye would have gone a long way to resolving some of the production's problems and the issues with the script.

The cast members are far too close in age for the youth of the girlfriend to read as an issue. She seemed less like a goy from New York and more like some hippie kid from Wolseley. Moreover, she decidely does look Jewish. She's a lovely and talented young actress but woefully miscast in a part that needs a rewrite.

The brief nudity in the play is gratuitious. There's great sexual tension between the brother-in-law and the girlfriend at the end of Act One ( which needs to lose 10 minutes) but the pay-off is so scant it barely registers. We need to see her reaction to what happens between them at the end of Act I for Act II to have enough stakes.

The conflict that needs to take place in Act II never happens. We get a great set-up but a weak pay-off.

The oldest brother is the protagonist here and he needs to be made the engine that moves the play forward. Right now that's not what's going on. He gets the girl, but he needs to really turn the tables on his brother and take control.

Nathanson has concocted a potentially explosively funny cocktail of sex,money and family here but it needs a remix to have the zing of comedy and the sting of truth that he's striving for. This show needs a page one rewrite, an outside dramaturge and a different director to hit its mark. I hope he does that next production. He clearly knows this world. This material has the potential to be a great drawing room farce.

Go but don't expect perfection.