by Lynn on March 20, 2010

in Archive,Picks & Pans

Can a close friendship survive after a heated debate about politics, religion, and the suitability of a friend’s girlfriend? These are some of the issues that are dealt with in TALK, a play produced by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company. Our theatre critic, Lynn Slotkin, is here to talk about her own take on TALK.

Hello Lynn. What’s the story of TALK?

Joshua and Gordon have been close friends for 18 years. Joshua is Jewish and Gordon is Not. Gordon has survived a divorce and moved from Winnipeg to London. After a four year separation, they meet for a drink and talk about old times.

During that conversation, Gordon asks Joshua what he thinks of his new girlfriend Clothilde. For Gordon Clothilde is ideal. Joshua has other thoughts and is conflicted about what to say. That conflict leads to other conflicts that come out in the conversation. Apparently Clothilde used a word in conversation that Joshua found offensive but he didn’t say anything at the time.

So the story of TALK, is about the debate about that word which leads to heated discussion about Middle East politics, Jews, Palestinians, and the true nature of friendship.

Is the play just a debate between the two men?

Not really.

Playwright Michael Nathanson involves another participant in the discussion—the audience. Of course in the theatre, the audience is involved by just listening. But in TALK we are directly involved. After almost every sentence to each other, Joshua and Gordon individually talk directly to the audience about what they really think and what they really want to say.

So we learn that Joshua thinks Clothilde is beautiful, charming, and engaging, which is what he tells Gordon, but he think her politics are offensive, which is what he tells us first before he tells Gordon. Gordon in turn tells Joshua he feels his thoughts on Judaism and Israel are blinkered, while Gordon tells us that Clothilde just wanted to open Joshua’s eyes to another point of view.

Nathanson loads his play with hot-button topics guaranteed to excite his audience. Or should that be incite. Whether it’s a good play or not is another matter.

So do you think it works as a play?

I certainly found it provocative. I also found it manipulative, incendiary, infuriating and compelling. I can appreciate that Joshua and Gordon have strong points of view that they want the other to see, but refuse to hear what the other is saying.

We’ve all been there. But this is a play and I have to look at it from that context. And in that context the problems start early. Initially Joshua tells Gordon the good things he finds about Clothilde. Gordon doesn’t believe him. He is adamant about not believing him. If that’s the case, the play is over.

Joshua says that Gordon’s new found political awareness does not sound like him. It sounds like his girlfriend. Gordon refuses to admit that’s the case. Neither friend budges from his position. Often I think the playwright is spinning his wheels because he can’t move the argument forward.

That might be real life, but it’s not great theatre.

You said you found the play compelling. Why?

Because the production is cracker-jack. The performances are very fine. As Joshua, Michael Rubenfeld is terrific. He is a ball of energy, intense, heated, charming, and wounded that this friendship is damaged. As Gordon, Kevin Bundy has that wonderful mix of innocence and arrogance. Gordon is like tofu. He soaks up all the political stuff his girlfriend dumps on him and he just reiterates it. He blindly goes along with it, not seeing the damage done.

Director Ted Dykstra keeps the pace moving quickly. On the whole, it’s a fine production of an annoying play and I want people to see it. It’s important for audiences to learn the difference between a play and a production. Between real life and theatre.

TALK is a good place to start.

TALK plays at the Jane Mallet Theatre of the St. Lawrence Centre until March 20. The theatre is wheelchair accessible.