Friday, 11 March 2011

74 Georgia Avenue - New End Theatre, Hampstead

Writer: Murray Schisgal
Director: Paul Blinkhorn
Reviewer: Alexei Edwards

After conducting a modicum of research on the writer, Murray Schisgal, of 73 Georgia Avenue, I learned that he had some rather impressive credentials. He was Oscar nominated as the co writer of Tootsie and an award winning playwright so I was surprised, and hugely excited, to be given the opportunity to see a UK premier of a play that was first penned way back in the 20th Century, in 1988.

The play was incredibly short, a mere 40 minutes, and told the story of a middle-aged Jewish man, Marty, returning to the house he grew up in which is now occupied by Joseph, a black man who has set aside his work commitments to look after his terminally ill wife. Within a matter of minutes, the gregarious Marty strides in and is immediately met with hostility by the bewildered Joseph who refers to him as a ‘honky.’ My immediate impression was that I was to witness a short play dealing with the cultural differences of the two players but that was soon dispelled as the play established Marty as a man desperately searching to put to rest the ghosts of his past and Joseph as a man trying to escape the inevitable onset of tragedy that had permeated his life due to his wife’s inescapable illness. They both became warped kindred spirits, feeding off each other’s melancholy and internal suffering whilst celebrating some of the characters of their shared past.

Both of the main actors offered insightful and at times, emotive performances that really plunged me into the world they so warmly discussed.

This play spoke to me about two men wanting to escape their immediate surroundings and celebrate and, at times, commiserate a life they once had.

The set perfectly illustrated the mild degradation that seemed to permeate Joseph and Marty’s lives but the main concern I had was not with the production itself but rather Schisgal’s script. On the undercurrent, there was a celebration of the Jewish community and culture these two men were a part of but there was also a nod towards the supernatural that I felt did not belong. From my perspective, it confused the play a little and exposed the frailties of the actor who played Joseph.

A shame as I felt it was a play that at times, threatened to be brilliant and truly memorable.

Runs until 19th March

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