Kvetch - Review

Vaudeville Punch and Judy


I sat through most of Kvetch with a great big grin on my face. And now I feel horribly guilty because almost everything you see and hear is appalling. It's one of those awful dreams where you say dreadful things to very important people – like your wife, your mother-in-law, your best friend and your company's best customer.

Berkoff's idea is so simple, you wonder nobody thought of it before.

Using a freeze-frame cinema technique, he stops the action every few moments for the actors to let us know what they are aching to say. And do. And then they go on and do it. And say it. With such grossness and violence, it is all appallingly funny.

The line "Let guilt go fuck itself" comes up several times as a hopeful catharsis and that seems to work most of the time. Until the big surprise turns up, that is.

If your Yiddish is as shaky as mine, "kvetch" is anxiety carried to the ultimate where vast inescapable guilt usurps everything.

The kvetcher-in-chief is Frank, head of the household. Here, he is Andrew Allen, managing to look remarkably like Jim Carrey and with all his comic timing and clown face. The scene early on when he murders his mother-in-law by shooting, strangling, blowing up by high explosive and, apparently, decapitation,is one of the funniest things I've seen in ages.

Janice Jones, his stupid failure of a wife (so Frank believes) is compliant and belligerent by turns. Alistair Lock, Frank's suicidedly uncertain friend, shares some great comic moments with her at the supper party. In an amazing turn-around in the plot, he also turns out to be unexpectedly accommodating in quite another direction. The play has even darker moments, believe it or not. They are still hilarious.

Liz Stapleton is mother-in-law, landed with some pretty disgusting table manners, poor soul, and dealing with them brilliantly. Culann Smyth, the smart-ass businessman, is not quite the smooth operator he presents. No surprise there, then.

Steven O'Shea directs and finds the right idiom and pace from the start. He works with the aggression of a vaudeville Punch and Judy show and that's exactly what's needed.

The big surprise turns out to be that it doesn't work when you tell guilt to eff-off.

It makes you feel guilty.

Review by Barry Hewlett-Davies