by Lynn on May 25, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Model Apartment

At the Greenwin Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Donald Margulies
Directed by Tanja Jacobs
Set and costumes by Katrin Whitehead
Lighting by John Thompson
Sound and composed by James Bunton
Cast: Clare Coulter
Lisa Norton
Tony Ofori
Eric Peterson

Lola and Max are a couple of a certain age who just want to live in peace and quiet. They want to leave New York and go to Florida and enjoy their retirement years. Everything conspires against that. First their apartment isn’t ready as expected. They are temporarily put in the model apartment where everything is for show and nothing really works. Then their emotionally challenged? developmentally challenged? daughter Debby travels from New York and finds them in Florida. Lola and Max tried everything to help Debby and nothing worked. They finally decided to leave New York and come to Florida without telling Debby. Somehow Debby finds them. She is wilful, needy, stubborn and impossible. She is also joined by her boyfriend Neil whom she met on the street. Added to this is that both Lola and Max are Holocaust survivors. Max is haunted by memories of that time. One senses that his memories have also been instilled in Debbie.

Donald Margulies has written a challenging play in the sense it’s hard to suspend ones disbelief that Debby would be able to know her parents left New York for Florida and then miraculously find them there. It’s an interesting complication that Max’s and to some extent Lola’s Holocaust memories also affect Debby. One is aware of the burden to the children of Holocaust survivors to live with their parents’ nightmares. Margulies explores this in an interesting, chilling way.

Tanja Jacobs has directed the play with a sensitive but firm hand. There is a sense of heightened emotion to the whole piece while Max and Lola try and keep a lid on Debby’s tendency to volatile outbursts. The last lighting image at the end of the play is certainly sobering in that it brings the past into the present. Jacobs guides a first rate cast. As Max, Eric Peterson is kindly to Lola but certainly unsettled by the model apartment. He becomes naturally unhinged when Debbie appears. Clare Coulter as Lola is always the calming influence but with a sense of futility when dealing with her daughter. Coulter gives Lola a sense of delusion when recalling her own Holocaust memories. Lisa Norton as Debby lends this difficult character nuance rather than playing her as a one-noted irrational woman. Tony Ofori also plays Neil so that you are not sure he is as mentally challenged as Debby. Good performances all around. Challenging play.
Presented by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company.

Plays to May 29, 2016.


Le Placard (The Closet)

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Francis Veber
Directed by Guy Mignault
Set and lighting by Alain Richer
Costumes by Nina Okens
Sound track by Gabriel Dubé
Cast: Thomas Gallezot
Robert Godin
Christian Laurin
René Lemieux
Tara Nicodemo
Pierre Simpson
Bahareh Yaraghi

Meek, mild François Pignon is an accountant for a rubber company that makes all things rubber—read ‘condoms’. That combination of ‘accountant’ and ‘condoms’ does give one pause and cause for laughing. François hears that he is about to be fired—the boss just doesn’t like him—and he’s frantic. He tries to kill himself by jumping out the window of his apartment but is stopped by his next door neighbour Kopel, who has a plan. Kopel suggests that François confess that he is gay and his job would be ensured. The thinking is that this being a ‘gay-sensitive’ climate his boss would not dream of firing him. François takes his advice and that starts various confusions set in motion. François’ co-workers begin assuming they knew he was gay. A bully-bruiser of a colleague begins to change his attitude about François. Gender issues are turned upside down.

Playwright Francis Veber has been called a modern day Molière by director Guy Mignault. Mr. Mignault should know—he’s directed enough of the French master’s plays. Veber writes with an off-the-wall irreverence and a sharp eye for the absurd. He has a natural satirist’s sensibility who can read the current climate and find the folly. People who are not gay are assumed to be; and those who you would never think are gay might be. Veber keeps us unbalanced and laughing throughout.

Director Guy Mignault knows his way around this satiric buoyant work, as does his cast. They play it straight (no pun intended) as you must with comedy. Leading the charge is Pierre Simpson as François. Simpson is unassuming, clean-cut, fastidious in everything he does—an accountant to the core. He has sad-sack eyes which see disaster around every corner. Simpson gives François a quiet resilience and always commands our sympathies. The rest of the cast illuminate characters who are decent, even the boss, considerate and able to change their perceptions. Several performances have English surtitles. Always helpful.

Presented by Théâtre Français de Toronto

Plays to May 29, 2016.

Tickets: 416-534-6604


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