George F. Walker’s We The Family Opens at Hart House Theatre

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Connie Guccione as Merle Kaplan, Mike Vitorovich as Ali, Sarah Murphy-Dyson as Lizzie Kaplan, photo Scott Gorman
Connie Guccione as Merle Kaplan, Mike Vitorovich as Ali, Sarah Murphy-Dyson as Lizzie Kaplan, photo Scott Gorman

World Premiere of George F. Walker’s We The Family at Hart House Theatre

Hart House Theatre must have been thrilled when George F. Walker chose it for the World Premiere of his new play, We The Family. The dark comedy opened to great anticipation at the University of Toronto theatre on September 19, 2015.

Connie Guccione as Merle Kaplan, Mike Vitorovich as Ali, Sarah Murphy-Dyson as Lizzie Kaplan, photo Scott Gorman
Connie Guccione as Merle Kaplan, Mike Vitorovich as Ali, Sarah Murphy-Dyson as Lizzie Kaplan, photo Scott Gorman

Directed by Andrea Wasserman, We The Family focuses on the repercussions after the marriage of a Jewish man and a Chinese woman. Unscrupulous businessman David Kaplan, and his wife Lizzie, the groom’s parents, are experiencing marital problems: David is having an affair while Lizzie tells her psychiatrist that she has contemplated killing her husband. Meanwhile, the bride’s mother, Jenny Lee, is in great debt as a result of the recent suicide of her husband. Forced to merge together, the Kaplans and the Lees do not see eye-to-eye. The attempt to blend families, symbolized by the unsuccessful mash-up wedding reception featuring sweet-and-sour matzo balls, leads to violent consequences.

Those familiar with Walker’s work will expect a no-holds-barred approach to the subject of discordant multiculturalism, but Walker’s play also explores the other dangerous aspects in many families including adultery, disloyalty, indebtedness and violence. Walker’s flamboyant humour has us laughing at his characters’ bold pronouncements because their statements are so politically incorrect, but after the laughs have subsided, we are left to evaluate our own prejudices. And we find out that the Lees and the Kaplans are not so different since both experience marital and parental problems.

David Cairns as Sonny Kaplan, Sherman Tsang as Lucy Lee, Lindsey Middleton as Marnie Kaplan in We The Family, photo Scott Gorman
David Cairns as Sonny Kaplan, Sherman Tsang as Lucy Lee, Lindsey Middleton as Marnie Kaplan in We The Family at Hart House Theatre, photo Scott Gorman

We The Family features a strong cast with standout performances by Phoebe Hu as Jenny Lee, the mother of the bride. Hu unabashedly infuses her role with wit, stubbornness and strength, depicting a woman immersed in Canadian culture, but bound by Chinese tradition. Sherman Tsang as Lucy, Jenny’s stepdaughter, hit all the right notes of a sassy, sullen teen.

Jessica Allen exudes petulance and transparency as David’s materialistic Russian mistress, Sonya, who hopes her lover will buy her a condo.

Connie Guccione as the acerbic Merle Kaplan sure knows how to steal a scene, delivering the elderly Jewish woman’s racist opinions about her grandson’s Chinese in-laws and daughter-in-law’s Palestinian friend with abandon.

Kathleen Black’s costumes help define the characters, particularly Lucy Lee’s torn, Punk-style black dress she wears to a funeral, Sonya’s curve-hugging skirt, and Jenny’s prim black suit and low heels.

Sound Designer Jeremy Hutton’s lively soundtrack includes a wide mix of music with many cultural influences underscoring the diversity of Walker’s characters while Brandon Kleiman’s versatile set provides an easy transition from scene to scene.

Andrea Wasserman’s crisp direction results in a work that capitalizes on the play’s dramatic points and crises. The 80-minute production (with no intermission) moved at a pleasingly swift pace.

George F. Walker’s We The Family at Hart House Theatre is a hilarious look at familial dysfunction and cultural conflict. Don’t miss this gem!

We The Family at Hart House Theatre is performed from September 18, 2015 to October 3, 2015. Purchase tickets online at UofTTix.