By James Karas
We the Family is a new play by George F. Walker that received its premiere at Hart House Theatre as the first production of its 2105-2016 season. Stand up and applaud enthusiastically.
The play promises multicultural mayhem, love, larceny and death! Prick up your ears. There are vast possibilities for examining multicultural conflicts in Toronto and as for the rest, well, love, larceny and death are always welcome on stage.
Phoebe Hu, Sarah Murphy-Dyson and John Cleland. Photo: Scott Gorman
In the eighty minutes’ performance, you will get some superficial satire of multicultural conflicts, a tad of love, a dose of lust, some gratuitous criminal conduct and a large quantity of jokes some of which are quite funny. But the plot takes so many twists and turns, so quickly that there is no room left for any character development. The episodes come on so quickly, that there is very little time to consider anything. In the end Walker seems to have run out of steam and brought the thing to a quick end after only an hour and twenty minutes. Take a deep breath and a sigh of disappointment.
On the bright side, director Andrea Wasserman and the cast do heroic work to bring this play to life. They do get some laughs and handle Walker’s black comedy well but the play serves them badly because most of the characters are papier mache caricatures rather than human beings.
The multicultural clash involves Jews, Chinese and Catholics when a Jewish young man marries a Chinese woman. We never see the couple but we learn that they are kidnapped on their honeymoon. David Kaplan (John Cleland) is the wealthy and creepy father of the groom who wants to negotiate a good deal with the kidnappers. He enlists his Russian mistress Sonya (Jessica Allen) to use her crime boss father in Russia to help with the negotiations.
In the meantime his crazy, alcoholic and psychotic wife Lizzie (Sarah Murphy-Dyson), is seeing a psychiatrist who does not have an office (played by Renée Haché) and an Arab (played by Mike Vitovich). She wants to kill her husband.
David’s father Sonny (David Cairns) is a criminal while his wife Merle (Connie Guccione) is a racist nut.
The Chinese family is not much better but there are only two of them: Jenny (Phoebe Hu), the mother of the unseen bride and her daughter Lucy (Sherman Tsang).
The several compartments of Brandon Kleiman’s dark set serve well for the numerous scene changes from a bedroom, to a courtroom, to a restaurant scene and a highway.
Walker in the end seemed to have run out of twists and he brought people back from the dead. By then there was nowhere to go but drop the curtain which he does.
In the end your enthusiasm has waned and you are left unsatisfied by unfulfilled expectations and you applaud the director and the actors for their work as you scratch your head about why a fine playwright like Walker allowed a half-baked script to be produced.
We the Family by George F. Walker played from September 18 to October 3, 2015 at Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto, Ontario. www.harthousetheatre.ca Telephone (416) 978-8849