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Jane Enkin

 
Winnipeg Jewish Theatre Presents The National Theatre of the World’s Impromptu Splendor

Jane Enkin, January 31, 2012

Toronto improv group The National Theatre of the World was here in Winnipeg to instantly create works in homage to great Jewish playwrights. I was lucky to attend when they presented the first and only performance of a play “not written by Harold Pinter.” The show featured local duo Crumbs, giving this show five comic characters rather than the usual three. Crumbs first did Pinter in The Master Playwright Festival several years ago.

To prepare for the play, the actors immersed themselves in Pinter's work, pinned down several key points of his style – they have improvised Pinter-style plays four times before, but never as part of a series on Jewish playwrights – and prepared some visuals. Naomi Snieckus was costumed in grey as a dowdy British housewife, and the table was set for tea.

On stage, the company asked for a few starters from the audience – some impressions of Pinter, a Jewish holiday to weave into the story. The performers rely entirely on wacky humour, great timing, incredible skill in dialogue, and real attentiveness to one another. They created a completely new play, on their feet, with no set pieces or backstage discussion of the plot.

Speaking of off-stage, they got a lot of comedy mileage by yelling to one another off stage, the kind of dialogue we all carry on from separate rooms, along the lines of “Have you seen my socks?”

The very funny play they developed featured consistent, fascinating characters – these are skilled actors. Much of the drama was quite moving -- Snieckus says they hope for that in each performance.

There were thick British accents and lots of Pinter pauses and meaningful glances. At times, one character was barraged with fast-fired questions by the others – one of the ways the company's quick verbal improv skills come to the fore. Matt Baram, the one person on stage of Jewish heritage, made sure to throw in some Purim references -- “The whole megillah!”

An interesting feature of this style of improvisation is that one character defines another. Whatever is said on stage is incorporated into the character of the person described – if she says you always lose everything, then it's true, you do. In improv, you are who someone else pretends you to be.

The Repressed Purim featured the following spontaneously created cast:

Naomi Snieckus – Esther, the housewife

Lee White of Crumbs– the husband

Matt Baram– menacing brother

Ron Pederson – even more menacing brother

Steve Sim of Crumbs– Esther's love interest, Peter

The opening was domestic, as tepid as the neglected cups of tea, with a put-upon woman, and her bored husband. Enter his menacing brothers, and some development of a plot about a lost dog, who has been murdered, figuratively or literally. The show gradually slipped into theatre of the absurd. This gave us the fantastic experience of watching Lee White morph convincingly into a hilarious human/dog hybrid, mischievous and eager to please. There was a text-book climax, denouement and ending – they really are writing plays here. There's no harm in giving away the ending, since this was the opening and closing night – by the time they are all in Purim costume, Esther, in fancy dress as Peter, leaves Peter, dressed as the housewife, Esther, and assertively walks out to face a new life on her own.

The National Theatre of the World tours internationally – they've improvised Woody Allen in Amsterdam, and they're heading to Norway. Kudos to the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre for bringing them here for Tribefest. Winnipeg's own Crumbs tour overseas annually, but there are still plenty of opportunities to catch their shows at home. Visit http://crumbscomedy.blogspot.com/ for lots of info.

Winnipeg Jewish Theatre's TRIBEFEST Week Two:

Thursday, February 9 at 8 pm

Panel discussion: What is Jewish Theatre?

Friday, February 10 at 7 pm

New play readings: works by Bruce Sarbit and Ginny Collins

Saturday, February 11 at 8 pm

Neurotica

An evening of short plays based on the dual themes of Something Jewish and Something Eros

Next for Winnipeg Jewish Theatre:

Angels In America: Millennium Approaches

by Tony Kushner

March 21 to April 1, 2012

call 477-7515 or visit www.wjt.ca

All events at the Berney Theatre

123 Doncaster

 
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