Friday, 19 May 2017

Minnie and Liraz, May 18, 2017 ***

Written by Lally Katz, by Melbourne Theatre Company
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until June 24, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Thurs May 18, 2017
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri May 19, 2017 and later in print. KH
 Virginia Gay, Rhys McConnochie, Nancye Hayes - photo Jeff Busby
If black humour about old age, serious illness, death and funerals makes you laugh, then the folks and jokes in Minnie and Liraz may tickle your funny bone – or your bad hip.

Set in the Autumn Road Retirement Village in Caulfield, Lally Katz’s latest play pokes fun at the strokes and heart attacks, deafness, widowhood, grandparenting and horribly failed hip replacements of the various geriatric residents.

When Minnie Cohen’s (Nancye Hayes) long-term Bridge partner dies unexpectedly, Liraz Weinberg (Sue Jones), whose Bridge partner is also recently deceased, proposes they join forces to win the hotly contested Australian Seniors Bridge Tournament.

Minnie reluctantly agrees to partner her former rival on the proviso that Liraz introduce her single grandson, Ichabod (Peter Paltos), to Minnie’s unmarried granddaughter, Rachel (Virginia Gay).

Some people mellow with age, but Minnie and Liraz buck that trend, with Minnie being ambitious, abrasive and quietly critical while Liraz is loud, mean, crass and competitive to the death.

This production succeeds almost exclusively because of its capable actors who give life to Katz’s comic caricatures and work like Trojans to milk every last laugh out of the rather obvious jokes and observational humour about old age.

Hayes is sprightly and refined as Minnie and plays her with a vibrating anxiety and acerbic tone that emphasise Minnie’s deep-seated fears about failing as a parent and her obsessive need to marry off her granddaughter.

Jones is a comic highlight as Liraz, getting huge laughs from her deft manoeuvring of Liraz’s motorised mobility scooter, her vulgar jokes, loud and rusty laugh and her feisty competitiveness.

Both Minnie and Liraz unashamedly use emotional blackmail to manipulate their family and friends, making them both thoroughly dislikeable – but comical.

Gay is very funny as the eccentric and clumsy Rachel, playing her with clownish awkwardness as she struggles to overcome her self-loathing and under-confidence, despite her success as the headmistress of a primary school.

As Ichabod, Liraz’s socially inept physicist grandson, Paltos channels the brainiacs in Big Bang Theory, getting laughs from his weirdly compulsive behaviour and his obsession with alternative universes, but his character remains two-dimensional.

Rhys McConnochie is sympathetic as Morris, Minnie’s lonely and long-suffering husband, while Georgina Naidu is relentlessly cheerful as the aged care worker, Norma.

Director, Anne-Louise Sarks, allows the actors to make the most of the gags, but her staging is unimaginative.

Although the revolving stage (Mel Page) provides multiple locations in the retirement home and the slow scene transformations initially mirror the residents’ pace of the life, these scene changes eventually slow the production to a snail’s pace.

Katz’s light, insubstantial, comic script includes occasional moments of pathos, such as Morris’s poignant war story told during ‘memoir group’ and Minnie’s revelation of her regrets but such moments are infrequent and the dialogue is repetitive.

The funereal humour and the digs at possessive grandparents are certainly funny, but this production succeeds primarily because of the comedic skills of its cast.

By Kate Herbert 
 Sue Jones, Peter Paltos - photo Jeff Busby
Virginia Gay - Rachel 
Nancye Hayes - Minnie Cohen
Sue Jones - Liraz Weinberg
Rhys McConnochie - Morris Cohen
Georgina Naidu ­- Norma
Peter Paltos - Ichabod Weinberg

Director Anne-Louise Sarks
Set costume Mel Page
Lighting Matt Scott
Composer Sound Stefan Gregory

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