Tag: Anna Burgess

Vass Productions Presents BAD JEWS

Full of Chutzpah

By Deborah Langley

On its return season to Melbourne, I recently had the pleasure of attending opening night of the Vass Theatre Group‘s production of Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon. This relatively new play has been a smash hit in London’s West End, New York’s Broadway and indeed across America, both selling out and extending much like the product here in Australia.

Bad Jews.jpg

The play may be new, but it draws on very traditional theatrical methodology, throwing together some eccentric and memorable characters in a high-pressured situation in order to present some deeply-felt and complex ideas about religion and cultural heritage.

A beloved grandfather has died and three cousins (and one girlfriend) are spending the night after the funeral together in a cramped Manhattan apartment to sit ‘shiva’ with the family the next day. Close quarters, family dynamics and interesting personality clashes brings up viciously hilarious quarrels about family, faith and the legacy of the tribe as a treasured family heirloom with religious significance is up for grabs.

But who has rights to Grandfather’s prizes procession? The bossy, overbearing and fanatically religious Daphna – performed by Maria Angelico who delivers with all the annoyingly loud speed of thought that traditionally characterises New York Jews. Her wealthy cousin Liam (Simon Corfield) and girlfriend Melody (Anna Burgess) who really want to be the voice of reason but don’t stand a chance with the crazy energy of Daphna? Or Jonah (Matt Whitty) who doesn’t want to get involved?

This incredibly talented cast bring the characters to life with all the complexities that they require. Burgess’s operatic solo of Summertime has to be a standout comedy moment for me but all performers encapsulate their characters perfectly. Although I do wonder if some of the Jewish nuances were missing, as the work sometimes felt very tense, and perhaps some of the comedy was lost without these very subtle cultural timings.

Overall this is a brilliant production that crosses cultural lines, with so many similarities to be drawn between Jewish families and any close-knit clan. So if you can get past the very specific Jewish references (most of which are eventually explained) make sure you check it out before this well-deserved second season is over!

 Dates: 27 April – 14 May

 Times: Tue-Sat 8:00pm, Matinees: Sat 3:00pm, Sunday 1 May and Sunday 8 May 5:00pm

Venue: Alex Theatre, St Kilda

Bookings: http://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=BADJEWS16

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REVIEW: Joshua Harmon’s BAD JEWS

Strong performances and serious laughs

By Myron My

Already a hit on Broadway and the West End, Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews has crossed continents for its Australian premiere. The “bad Jews” here are three family members, siblings Jonah and Liam, and their cousin Diana (who prefers to be called by her Hebrew name Daphna) who have come together for the funeral of their grandfather. Over the course of the evening, their relationships, cultural identity, class and life are all explored, often with hilarious results.

Bad Jews Photo_Credit Jeff Busby

Daphna (Maria Angelico) is not concerned with any form of financial gain from her late grandfather, and all she requests from her cousins (Simon Corfield and Matt Whitty) is her grandfather’s “chai”, a gold ring that represents his soul and that he had since he was a child. While this “simple” request soon creates much tension for the three, it creates an equal amount of laughs for us.

Director Gary Abrahams’ exhaustive casting search has more than paid off with the actors he has chosen. Angelico is definitely a find as Daphna, who, despite playing a character that can be abrupt and hostile towards anyone “different”, still manages to show the vulnerability that is hiding under Daphna’s strong cultural and religious ideals. However, it is Corfield as the arrogant and self-entitled Liam who remains the star of Bad Jews. The antithesis of Daphna, he is not a follower of the faith and nor does he have the strong connection to family that his cousin does. Corfield does such a phenomenal job with his portrayal that I actually hated seeing his character on stage and really wished he would shut his mouth every time he spoke. Everything about Liam; the way he speaks, the way he stands, the way he moves, is all powerfully convincing as a privileged, upper-class white man.

Anna Burgess as Liam’s girlfriend, Melody, brings an innocence to the show and some brilliant comic relief, with one memorable scene in particular being a highlight of Bad Jews. It’s perhaps because of these three strong characters that Whitty’s Jonah unfortunately left little impression as scenes involving the character usually had him doing nothing more than standing around with an exasperated look on his face. I’ve seen Whitty perform before and he is assuredly a good actor but unfortunately the character needed to have a stronger presence if he was going to compete against the likes of Daphna, Liam and Melody.

Despite the one-act play taking place entirely in a studio apartment, Abrahams ensures that the pacing never drags or falters. His use of the space and a mixture of verbal as well as physical comedy ensures our attention is always on the stage.

Ultimately none of the characters are actually very nice people and we are left wondering who exactly is the “bad” Jew and who is the rightful heir to the “chai”. Even with a few ‘rants’ that went on for too long, Harmon’s script is a clever and well-observed character study on what makes us ‘us’, and with the talented group of actors on board, this is a production that makes for an enjoyable and entertaining night out.

Venue: Alex Theatre, 135 Fitzroy St, St Kilda
Season: Extended until 19 September | Tues-Sat 8.00pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm
Tickets: Between $40 – $55
Bookings:  Alex Theatre

Image by Jeff Busby

REVIEW: HIT Productions Presents THE 39 STEPS

Cast of four fuel this fabulous farce

By Lyn Collet

Adapted by Patrick Barlow from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon, this beloved British romp is based on the 1935 Hitchcock spy thriller movie and novel by John Buchan. The London’s West End production is currently the longest running comedy. The 39 Steps begins with Richard Hannay, an innocent man, learning too much about a dangerous spy ring and being pursued across Scotland before returning to London to foil the villain’s dastardly plans.

The 39 Steps

This return season touring production features over a hundred characters played by four very versatile and competent actorsMike Smith (who plays the hero Hannay), whilst Anna Burgess, Sam Haft and Michael Lindner are kept busy cleverly portraying the rest of the hilarious ensemble.

Having previously seen the famous West End production, a few of the memorable comedic moments were missed in this re-staged version, but director Terence O’Connell has made this a fast moving, very funny show with simple, but very effective sets and props by Jacob Battista and with lighting by designer Jason Bovaird.

Costume designer Kim Bishop has produced just the right outfits for the very quick changes needed for the very humorous characters and settings, while choreographer Alana Scanlan has created some very well-rehearsed choreography with great physical and comic timing.

This is indeed a “jolly good show”, and it is unfortunate that there are only 4 final Melbourne performances on this tour.

The 39 Steps will be playing at the Athenaeum Theatre – Thursday 2 October at 7.30 pm, Friday 3 October at 7.30 pm and Saturday 4 October 2 pm and 7.30 pm.

Bookings: 03 9650 1500

Ticketek: 132 849 / www.ticketek.com.au

REVIEW: Grayboy Entertainment’s GOOD BYE MISS MONROE

Hollywood starlets – and the man who moved them

By Narelle Wood

Good-Bye Miss Monroe is a short but exquisite look into the little-known life of dance director and choreographer Jack Cole, and the glory days of dance on film.

Goodbye Miss Monroe

The play, written and directed by Liam De Burca, is unusual in its construction; set in the days after Monroe’s passing, Jack Cole (played by Matt Young) recounts his experiences working with his ‘Baby Doll’ Marilyn, and includes recollections of and conversations with some of Hollywood’s greatest starlets. The story provides some fascinating insight into the creation of these iconic Hollywood actresses, including Martha Graham, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable and of course Monroe. Cole’s character explains the difficulties of teaching these actresses to move in the ways they eventually became famous for as he laments the loss of Marilyn’s life and explains the development of the sex-bomb character that she became so famous for.

In the précis of the show, De Burca explains that Cole’s work is relatively unknown as most of it is uncredited. As a result it is hard to know whether Young’s portrayal of Cole is accurate, but what he presents is a believable, quintessentially old-fashioned choreographer who believes in the power of dance and the importance of accurately representing dance on film. Anna Burgess plays all of the female characters and her transformation between the different characters is indescribable: from the look, to the dance moves, to the voice, to each of the actress’s idiosyncratic mannerisms, Burgess portrays each of them with astounding accuracy.

The narration’s time-frame does cut backwards and forwards and Cole’s focus on what he’s discussing chops and changes regularly, making it initially a little hard to follow. This may be a reflection of Cole’s disorientation after hearing of Marilyn’s death or an attempt to explore as much of Cole’s littl- known character as possible: either way the format does do the story justice.

While the title might suggest a sole focus on Monroe, Good-Bye Miss Monroe explores so much more this and offers a unique perspective of what it meant to work in film during the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. If you love this era of film, Monroe or dancing in general Good-Bye Miss Monroe is moving, funny and simply brilliant.

Venue: Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Season: 2nd to 4th May, 8pm, Matinee Saturday and Sunday 3pm
Tickets: Full $30 | Conc $22
Bookings: http://chapeloffchapel.com.au