American import Alix Sobler has, in only five years, established herself as Winnipeg's most autobiographical playwright.

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American import Alix Sobler has, in only five years, established herself as Winnipeg's most autobiographical playwright.

There's not much you don't know about her family gleaned from her string of Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival works.

Sobler (right) with Daniel Kash in Some Things You Keep, which premieres at WJT.


Sobler (right) with Daniel Kash in Some Things You Keep, which premieres at WJT.

Her fiancé Jason Neufeld has been a regular presence in her scripts, while her mother, father, brother, cousin and pets have also been immortalized. The actress/director even got named in Neufeld's provocatively titled play called Alix Sobler Slept With My Brother on stage. If you saw her 2004 solo show America vs. Canada you are also aware her grandfather arrived at New York City's Ellis Island in 1914 to escape anti-Semitism in his Polish village.

"It's true autobiography plays a large part in my work," says Sobler, on the eve of the premiere of her first full-length work, Some Things You Keep, opening tonight at the WJT's (Winnipeg Jewish Theatre) Berney Theatre.

"At the moment I find the 'ordinary people' in my life very fascinating. I miss my family in New York greatly. Writing about them makes me feel closer to them. My humour comes from my self-deprecation. My humour is what forces me to write about myself."

The two characters in Some Things You Keep were initially based on her father and herself, Sobler says. The set-up certainly sounds like it. Her stage stand-in Rebecca moved away from New York after her mother died to be with her non-Jewish partner in Winnipeg. Her father has never come to visit her until she asks him to deliver part of her inheritance.

The plot of her comedy mirrors her personal life except her father has never visited her in Winnipeg. Nor will he see Some Things You Keep although he is expected at her wedding to Neufeld here in June.

"This play I think explores our best and our worst when we are together," says Sobler, who will no doubt add some authenticity to the role of Rebecca by playing her in the WJT season-ender.

"I obviously relate to this character. It's not a massive stretch for me. It was a chance to be on stage saying a bunch of things I want to say."

WJT artistic producer Michael Nathanson, who commissioned Some Things You Keep, is a fan of writing where a real-life incident spurs a dramatic exploration.

"Alix's writing is very much like Alix is as a person," Nathanson says. "It's very charming, it's funny and it's smart. It's got attitude in a good way."

The run of Some Things You Keep represents Sobler's emergence from the fringe festival ghetto where artists like her self-produce their own works to attract the event's built-in crowds. She owes Canada's alternative theatre circuit a lot -- grateful for her first audiences and the love of her life, whom she met at the Saskatoon Fringe Festival in 2002. The dark-haired permanent citizen of Canada returned the following summer with her one-woman monologue Flavour of the Week, touring it to festivals from Montreal to Vancouver.

"I couldn't believe how magnificent the country was and the whole spirit of the fringe, that it was this travelling circus," says Sobler, who moved here in 2005. "I was totally hooked."

Ever since, she has been a shameless Winnipeg booster and fringe festival cheerleader. That her relationship with Neufeld, whose plays have also tended to autobiography (Confessions of a Repressed Mennonite), endured was a surprise to both of them and many of their doubting fellow fringers who cautioned about getting too serious about summer loves.

"There were lots of external forces that made it unlikely," says the Ivy leaguer who graduated from Brown University with a degree in theatre in 2001. "We didn't look good on paper. We can consider it a success now, no matter what."

After working for several years as the public relations co-ordinator at the Winnipeg Humane Society, Sobler was recently hired as the Winnipeg Art Council's Cultural Capital's marketing and communications co-ordinator. Her day job will not curtail her writing or the dramatic focus that falls on those around her.

"Some of my very close friends from university are next," she says. "That's a promise."