Yiddish is a language that conveys a world of meaning in a single word. Take, for instance, the word “Kvetch“. Dictionary.com states the definition as “A person who complains a great deal.” The Free Dictionary gives an even better definition: “To complain persistently and whiningly.”, or as a noun, “A chronic, whining complainer.” or “A nagging complaint.”. Leo Rosten, in “The Joy of Yiddish“, gives a lot of definitions including “to fret, complain, gripe, grunt, sigh”, as in “All she does is kvetch and krechtz!“.
I’m educating you on this word because today we went to the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks to see the play “Kvetch“, by Steven Berkoff, and … oy!, it was decidedly not about kvetching. Let me tell you, if this play was to be properly titled, it would be called “Insecurity”, for that is all the characters talked about. They didn’t complain, they just kept turning to the audience and describing the inner insecurity behind their actions. They thought that was kvetching. It wasn’t. Trust me—I have a teenage daughter, and I know kvetching!
So what is “Kvetch” about. Perhaps the inner demons that haunt us? The basic conceit in “Kvetch” is that our inner rage and insecurities is constantly expressed by the action freezing, and the characters turning to the audience and confessing their free-flowing anxiety. The story that goes on in the background moves from an awkward dinner party with coworker and mom as guests and Frank and Donna as nervous hosts, to sex scenes in which the unhappy pair fantasizes wildly about other people (including homosexual sex), to a sales meeting, to illicit trysts–Frank and Donna gradually get more in touch with their hidden desires and, presumably, ultimately break free of the compulsion to kvetch (nag, complain).
Reviews of this production found it funny, but I found it tedious (although there was a fellow in the front who kept uproariously laughing at the production). Perhaps this is because it ultimately wasn’t about kvetching; it was a play about people that actually weren’t likable, who you didn’t grow to care about, and who were obviously insincere. It also, at times, dropped to the level of adolescent humor, reaching for jokes with belches, farts, and stereotypes.
“Kvetch” was presented by the SeaGlass Theatre Company, and despite the problems with the story, was reasonably well acted (although, given this was the last performance of a long running show, I was surprised to still see line hesitations). I was particularly taken with Kimberly Van Luinæ as Donna, who did a great job of portraying a harried housewife, and Dale Morrisæ as George, the wholesaler, who had a wonderful bug-eyed look about him. Also good was Matt Kirkwoodæ as Frank, especially his expression in the last scene. Rounding out the cast were Paul Stroili as Hal, and Annie Abbottæ as the Mother-In-Law. The production was directed by Ian Vogtæ, who did the best he could to mine the humor in this piece.
[æ denotes members of Actors Equity ]
Turning to the technical… Here I was also less than impressed. The set and the lighting design was by Scott LeGrand, with Susanna Wong serving providing props and assisting with the set design. I wasn’t impressed with the set: cardboard on the floor, cardboard on the walls (covered with newspaper), and cardboard roofs, seemingly having nothing to do with the story. The props were just a little better: an all purpose table that doubled as a bed, and some weird serving utensils. The lighting was satisfactory, although the freeze lighting could have been more distinct. The sound, by John Zalewski, was even more problematic. There was some sort of music that kept bleeding through the sound system that was distracting. It was unclear if this was intention, or was just crosstalk from something nearby. In any case, you would think by the end of the run the problem would have been found and fixed. Other sound effects were reasonable. The costumes, by Jennifer May Nickle were OK, Matthew Sandlin served as stage manager.
Today’s performance was the last performance of “Kvetch“.
Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Next weekend brings brings “Annie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on October 22. The last weekend of October brings “Victor Victoria” at the Malibu Stage Company on Saturday. November will start with “The Robber Bridegroom” at ICT on November 5. It will also bring “Day Out With Thomas” at Orange Empire (We’re working Veterans Day, but we’re not sure about the weekend yet). Karen will also be seeing “Riverdance” at the Pantages on November 16. I’m still waiting to ticket “Bring It On” at the Ahmanson (held for November 25, pending ticketing, hottix on sale for our block on November 8). Thanksgiving weekend also brings the last show of the REP season, “The Graduate”, on Saturday November 26. Also of potential interest, if time is available, are “A Sentimental Journey: The Story of Doris Day” at the El Portal (Nov 2-20), “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant” at the Secret Rose (9/30-11/20; Theatremania has $10 tickets with code “PREGNANT”); or “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center (11/19-12/16). Not of interest is “South Street” at the Pasadena Playhouse, given the reviews. The first weekend of December is lost preparing for ACSAC, although I might squeeze in something on Saturday. The next weekend is busy, with a Mens Club Shabbat in the morning, and “Travels with my Aunt” at the Colony Theatre in the evening. The remainder of December is unscheduled, but I’m sure we’ll fill things in for Winter Break. Of course, there is the de rigueur movie and Chinese food on Christmas day. As always, open dates are subject to be filled in with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.