July 18, 2019

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Leave-'em-laughing rom-com closes Jewish theatre season

She’s a school teacher from Regina visiting the Holy Land on her vacation.

He is a Russian-Israeli soldier on security detail, checking tourists for weapons.

Their unlikely comic romance doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, to quote the movie Casablanca. (And yes, this play quotes Casablanca.) At just 65 minutes long, with no intermission, this two-hander by Aaron Bushkowsky isn’t as weighty as legumes. It’s more like a coconut meringue cookie, sweet and pleasurable enough for a brief while, but unsubstantial.

Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s season-closer is a leave-’em-laughing rom-com that pairs Winnipeg actors Sharon Bajer and Toby Hughes as Carol and Vlad, who meet cute when he’s checking her for metal objects and she comically reacts to his “wand” as if it were the type of instrument that grants wishes.

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She’s a school teacher from Regina visiting the Holy Land on her vacation.

He is a Russian-Israeli soldier on security detail, checking tourists for weapons.

KEITH LEVIT PHOTOs</p><p>Sharon Bajer and Toby Hughes in After Jerusalem by Aaron Bushkowsky at Winnipeg Jewish Theatre.</p></p>

KEITH LEVIT PHOTOs

Sharon Bajer and Toby Hughes in After Jerusalem by Aaron Bushkowsky at Winnipeg Jewish Theatre.

Their unlikely comic romance doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, to quote the movie Casablanca. (And yes, this play quotes Casablanca.) At just 65 minutes long, with no intermission, this two-hander by Aaron Bushkowsky isn’t as weighty as legumes. It’s more like a coconut meringue cookie, sweet and pleasurable enough for a brief while, but unsubstantial.

Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s season-closer is a leave-’em-laughing rom-com that pairs Winnipeg actors Sharon Bajer and Toby Hughes as Carol and Vlad, who meet cute when he’s checking her for metal objects and she comically reacts to his "wand" as if it were the type of instrument that grants wishes.

As it happens, she is fervently wishing for a "ho-mance" (her own sardonic term for "holiday romance") and Vlad ends up obliging. Part of the attraction is that Vlad is a frustrated screenwriter and Carol makes claims to being a movie actor, a gross exaggeration of a CV that pretty much ends with a community theatre turn as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Carol may have been born for that particular role: she is not above spinning half-truths to make herself more attractive to potential lovers. As for Vlad, he believes Carol can deliver his screenplay to people who matter. And as it turns out, he weaves a few colourful fabrications himself.

A climactic scene that reproduces the thrilling finale of Casablanca was a device used in Woody Allen’s 1969 play/1972 movie Play It Again, Sam, which was about a film critic who took Casablanca as his own personal guide to romantic success. Bushkowsky’s comedy owes Allen a debt, even as it ups the ante in that both his characters are movie fans whose fantasies intrude on their real lives. (Vlad’s true obsession is not Casablanca,but Chekhov’s The Seagull, especially its doomed scion Konstantin.)

The show accommodates the fantasy with a backdrop that mostly depicts the ancient stone structures of Jerusalem, except set designer Kara Pankiw gives it a sheen of movie-set artifice. Director Ari Weinberg enhances the movie love by screening very Casablanca-like movie titles on either end of the show, to lovely effect.

Bajer and Hughes memorably played unlikely lovers in the 2016 Warehouse dark comedy Hand to God and they still exude a certain unlikely chemistry, albeit a lot less perverse this time out.

Bajer has sufficient comic charisma that she can make us like a character who is, in equal parts, delusional and deceptive. Likewise, Hughes finds the funny in a character accustomed to presenting a stoic soldier front.

The comedy goes one deception too far when it touches on an episode in Vlad’s soldiering career involving a Palestinian youth. Its resolution is jarringly inappropriate and unfunny, given the deadly seriousness of the Israel-Palestine conflict in this current chapter of history. It leaves a particularly sour taste: a fly in the meringue. 

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

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Randall King

Randall King
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In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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History

Updated on Sunday, April 7, 2019 at 9:04 PM CDT: Edited

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