Press for Some Things You Keep (WJT, 2010)

May 8: From the Winnipeg Free Press, You’re never too jaded for art to work its magic

One downside of getting older — er, gaining maturity — is that moving artistic experiences get harder to find.

Transcendent moments are fewer and farther between because not as much seems fresh to you. Been there, done that.

Also, in truth, you get stuck in your ways. You’re less open. You know what you like, and that’s good enough for you.

So it was quite the banner week for me when I took in not one but two things that surprised and moved me mightily.

The first fell into a rather common category: Art you appreciate because you identify with it.

Winnipegger Alix Sobler’s first full-length play, Some Things You Keep, is a dramatic comedy that mines familiar themes of parental expectations and childhood independence.

Its 10-day run ends, alas, tonight at Winnipeg’s Jewish Theatre. I’m the age of Sobler’s obnoxious father in the play, and I can imagine saying some of the those annoying things (and in fact have said them) to my own daughter.

But it was really Sobler’s idealistic character I identified with. At one point, exasperated by her dad’s practical world view, she says, “We’ve been having this argument for 15 years!”

This broke me up. I’ve been having the identical argument with my mother for 40 years!

But beyond the easy identification with the play’s universal themes, it was the quality of the writing, the acting and the direction that left me gasping with approval.

The hilarious sparring between Sobler and Daniel Kash reminded me, oddly enough, of Neil Simon’s Odd Couple, a classic of 20th-century theatrical comedy.

I also loved Janelle Regalbuto’s set, a detailed re-creation of an Osborne Village walkup. In my 20s, I lived in apartments exactly like that.

Some Things You Keep was the most memorable evening of theatre I’ve had in years. I was expecting nothing special, but it blew me away. If there is justice in the world, this play will be picked up across the country.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 8, 2010 C9

May 1, 2010: FOUR STARS, Winnipeg Free Press review of Some Things You Keep

In Alix Sobler’s sparkling new comedy Some Things You Keep, transplanted New Yorker Rebecca is still smarting about her father’s five-year-old reluctance to visit her new home in Winnipeg.

Only when the 27-year-old Jewish animal shelter worker appeals to Harry to personally bring her a family treasure — her dead mother’s expensive diamond ring from Tiffany’s — does he acquiesce and make the trip to River City. Actually, Rebecca is reaching for the brass ring of parental approval of her life choices.

Dad’s hardly in her modest apartment door before their mutual irritation flares up. The distance between them is much more than the 2,000 kilometres between cities.

With his dry sense of humour, Dad snipes derisively at her international affair. He pokes fun at her non-Jewish, live-in boyfriend, “the Mormon,” who is actually a Mennonite. He dumps on her job and her sketchy neighbourhood, but mostly on Winnipeg. To him, the city is flat, colourless and symbolic of her accepting second best, grossly lowering her ambition and expectations.

Rebecca finally explodes, “It’s not like North Korea,” a line that drew a gale of laughter from WJT’s appreciative opening night audience Thursday.

The frustration will be recognizable to many new Winnipeggers who must repeatedly explain their moronic choice to live in a “one-horse” hometown. Thematically, there is a lot about Sobler’s first full-length script that is familiar and meaningful — children craving parental approval, parents who think they know what’s best for their kids and the disappointment generated when offspring turn their backs on the family’s religious and cultural foundation.

It’s ultimately hard to say how much of Some Things You Keep is autobiographical, but there is a strong whiff of reality to the lively 90-minute WJT season-closer. If Rebecca’s defence of her lifestyle has not been spoken by Sobler — a native New Yorker whose father has yet to visit her in Winnipeg in five years — in her real life, it certainly feels like an internal conversation she has had many times.

The playwright does double duty as an actor, playing Rebecca, a young woman who gets mad while trying to explain how happy she is. A familiar face from many Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival productions, Sobler is impressive her character manoeuvres through the tricky emotional minefield that is her relationship with her father, played by out-of-towner Daniel Kash.

Harry is all subtext, not-so-subtly undermining his daughter’s life choices in the hopes she will end her foolishness, jump in his Mercedes and head back with him to the Big Apple. Kash never breaks a smile as he needles Rebecca. He skilfully makes it look easy, cloaking his well-meaning character’s inner turmoil.

No blood is spilled during Sobler’s verbal slugfest, directed with an invisible hand by Chris Sigurdson, and Winnipeggers will leave entertained and not too bruised by the smackdown their town endures. Sobler’s first full-length play proves a keeper, successfully creating real people out of her odd couple with enough substance to cast long shadows alongside the jokes.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 1, 2010 C9

April 30, 2010: FOUR STARS, CBC review of Some Things You Keep

Theatre Review: Is “Some Things You Keep” a keeper?

April 29, 2010

That venerable “write what you know” advice can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, great dramatic honesty can arise from autobiographical plays. But the risk of alienating an audience with self-referential navel-gazing – which rarely makes for great drama – is always present.

It’s testament to her skill as a playwright, then, that Alix Sobler’s play, drawing heavily from her own life, is such an engaging piece of theatre.

Some Things You Keep is the story of Rebecca (played here by the playwright herself), a 20-something writer who’s moved from New York to Winnipeg to be with her Mennonite partner… all to the great disappointment of her father Harry (Daniel Kash), a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker who’s convinced that a life outside the Big Apple is a life half-lived.

As the play begins, Harry has just arrived in Winnipeg with a delivery: a ring that belonged to Rebecca’s late mother. What ensues is the mother of all parent-child arguments, with Harry going after Rebecca for everything from her career choices to her non-Jewish boyfriend to Winnipeg’s suitability for human habitation (“The river freezes?… Moving water, and it freezes?” he says incredulously).

Eventually, they get around to what really matters: how they’ve dealt with the death of Rebecca’s mother, and how they maintain their own relationship in the aftermath of their loss.

These are heavy themes: the difficulty of dealing with family, parental expectation vs. asserting independence, coping with loss – but Alix Sobler’s script deals with them all with an eloquent style and wit. Yes, these two bicker relentlessly. And, as is often the case in a two-hander, it does sometimes feel like they’re spinning their wheels. But we’re never too far from a good, quippy one-liner – none of which detract from the genuine, deep emotional core of the story.

The snappy dialogue is propelled along at a great pace by director Chris Sigurdson in a tight, 90-minute package.Sobler and Kash deliver natural, credible performances. The father-daughter relationship at the heart of the play looks entirely authentic.

The themes here are universal enough, and their treatment entertaining enough, that Some Things You Keep should appeal to a wide audience. If you have family, have ever experienced loss, or just like Winnipeg jokes, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here.

This one’s a keeper.

An A- from the Uptown for Some Things You Keep

There once was a young Jewish woman from New York who settled in Winnipeg with her Mennonite boyfriend. It may sound like the beginning of some terrible politically incorrect joke, but it is actually the beginning of the sweet and comic Some Things You Keep.

New Yorker Rebecca (Alix Sobler, who is also the work’s playwright), has been living in Winnipeg with her boyfriend, Will, for five years. Her father (Daniel Kash), is making his very first trip to visit Rebecca in her adopted home.

Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems and Sobler, as playwright, has a fine time exploring the intricacies of the father/daughter dynamic — in this case, made even more complicated by the fact that Rebecca left home after the death of her mother, whom she nursed through her illness.

Thankfully, in Sobler’s capable hands, Some Things You Keep does not spiral into a maudlin meditation on familial love. This is not to say she does n’t delve into the messy underbelly of family and its intrinsic value in our lives, whether we like it or not. Rather, she does it in such a way that the audience doesn’t end up knee deep in psychological muck. Instead, we get to laugh out loud and also contemplate a thing or two about our own sense of family.

It would be easy to claim Some Things You Keep as autobiography, as many of Rebecca’s life happenings mirror Sobler’s own. Sobler is also a transplanted New Yorker who moved to Winnipeg to be with her Mennonite boyfriend. And the photos of the happy couple featured in the play do happen to be of Sobler and her real-life love, which may be a bit confusing, but we are not just watching Sobler’s life story unfold here.

Regardless of the source of the material, Sobler has crafted a story of a father and daughter who fiercely love one another, but who probably don’t really know one another. Amidst their rapid-fire one-liners and hopes for who each other should be — the good daughter who will move back to New York, live up to her potential and marry a nice Jewish boy, and the supportive father who is proud of who his daughter is and wants her to be happy, no matter the life choices she makes — these characters ooze genuine humanity.

Kash and Sobler make a dynamic father/daughter duo. And while it comes as no surprise Sobler is perfectly cast as Rebecca, Kash is equally as wonderful as her father. It’s almost a shock to realize they’re just acting.

Though the work occasionally loses steams (90 minutes without an intermission is stretching it), it always veers back on track. And in her cat-toy, LP-strewn apartment (a perfect replica of many a young Winnipeg couple’s abode by designer Janelle Regalbuto), Rebecca wants her father to see that she has found a home, on her own terms, in her own way. And who can’t relate to that?
— Barb Stewart

Winnipeg Jewish Review of Some Things You Keep
By Alissa Schacter

Witty wordplay provides lots of laughs in world premier performance

“I’m not your letter to the world. I’m a real person”, says Rebecca to her father, Harry as she attempts to get him to accept her decision to move from New York to Winnipeg to live with her non-Jewish boyfriend. She has a hard time of it in “Some Things You Keep” by New York transplant Alix Sobler, who now makes Winnipeg home. The play, commissioned by the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre in 2007, is a laugh out loud funny and profoundly incisive exploration of the deep-rooted expectations parents have of their adult children, and of how relationships change when a family member dies.
The story, loosely based on Sobler’s own life, begins when Rebecca (played by Sobler), a twenty-seven year old Jewish writer, receives an inaugural visit from her father Harry (Daniel Kash) to the Winnipeg apartment she shares with her Mennonite boyfriend.  Harry has come from New York to bring Rebecca her late mother’s wedding ring.  His early arrival catches Rebecca unprepared and sets the tone for a visit that quickly falls off the rails.  Rebecca wants to showcase the life she has made for herself to its best advantage, but her father casually surveys her home, determined to find ammunition to undermine her.  Harry manages to find fault in every decision Rebecca has made since leaving New York, from her choice of a pet, to her decision to leave the city everyone wants to live in for a “one horse town”, and her non-Jewish, non-upwardly mobile boyfriend.

In what feels like a well rehearsed tango, the tension between daughter and father repeatedly simmers to a boil, followed by a dénouement of light banter, offering welcome comic relief.   The play treads on some well worn ground when dealing with Harry`s disapproval of Rebecca dating a non- Jew, however the humour always feels fresh.  As the play progresses, the stakes rise.  Rebecca and Harry circle in on each other until they strike at the real issue between them: the death of Rebecca’s mother and its aftermath.

The two person cast of Sobler and Kash skilfully create a repartee that resembles a verbal jousting match.  They exchange a series of sharp, well-aimed jibes one moment and casually laugh and joke with each other the next.    Rebecca alternates between being an independent young woman who knows her mind, and an adult- child who still badly wants her father to understand and accept her.   Sobler ably captures this dichotomy.  Kash, who appeared at Manitoba Theatre Centre in “The Constant Wife” in 2006/07, delivers a strong performance as the self-assured Harry and shows impeccable comic timing throughout the ninety minute performance.  The actors convincingly navigate an array of powerful and conflicting needs and emotions that, woven together, form the resilient fabric of filial relations.

The entire play is set in Rebecca’s living room.  Director Chris Sigurdson makes effective use of the set and the dialogue is tight and well paced.

The effect of the loss of a loved one;  the challenge of carving out an identity independent from one’s parent; the juxtaposition of youthful idealism and middle age practicality.  These are weighty issues, but Sobler handles them deftly and with humour.   “Some Things You Keep” is a highly entertaining, well-mounted show, ending The Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s current season on a high note.

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