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HOT OFF the Cape Town Fringe (which ends to­day – but Buskers Fes­ti­val is on un­til to­mor­row at the V&A Wa­ter­front) – is The Finkel­steins are Com­ing to Din­ner.

This com­edy-drama opens at Alexan­der Up­stairs (up­stairs at Alexan­der Bar on Strand Street) on Monday and is on un­til Oc­to­ber 29. It stars An­drew Laub­scher, David Viviers and Me­gan Fur­niss. Di­rec­tion is by Adrian Collins and light­ing by Guy de Lancey.

Viviers, who has been nom­i­nated for a Cape Town Fringe Fresh Award, gives an ex­traor­di­nar­ily nu­anced per­for­mance as Nate – an artist who falls in love with his model, James (Laub­scher). But there are more than two in the re­la­tion­ship.

The spirit of Nate’s de­ceased mother (Fur­niss) is there kib­itz­ing over his shoul­der, com­ment­ing on his choice of a mate and his life in gen­eral. Lots of laughs.

She is fairly open minded but when things be­come too graphic for her, she cov­ers her eyes and hides un­der the du­vet. It’s an in­ge­nious de­vice for play­wright David Ka­plan to present a wry commentary on ev­ery­thing from love, death, sex­u­al­ity and Jewish iden­tity (shades of the play Bad Jews – re­cently on at the Fu­gard). Nate and Mama are teth­ered to each other and can­not, or will not, let go.

In­te­gral to the play is a se­lec­tion of paint­ings, de­pict­ing James – re­pro­duc­tions of paint­ings by artist Evan Ober­hol­ster. Nate is there on stage, paint­ing and we as an au­di­ence see these im­pres­sions. The nude im­ages painted specif­i­cally for this play go be­yond be­ing mere props.

They in­vite our gaze and am­plify what’s been said by the pro­tag­o­nists.

“Peo­ple have no­tions of them­selves which they show in the way they dress. The un­dress­ing is a lev­el­ling – it em­pha­sises the equal­ity of be­ing hu­man. There is also a time­less­ness about it – while fash­ion and clothes have changed, we have al­ways looked more or less the same when naked,” says Ober­hol­ster.

An ex­hi­bi­tion of male nudes by Ober­hol­ster will be on dur­ing the run of the play, in the Par­lour Room in Alexan­der Bar – and are for sale. For me, the paint­ing – as a body of work – be­comes an­other char­ac­ter.

Ober­hol­ster said: “I found it very ap­peal­ing that the play al­lows you to ex­pe­ri­ence the re­al­ity of the artist, who sees the model and the paint­ings in progress. The au­di­ence is be­ing con­fronted by the in­ti­macy of the artist’s studio. The paint­ings of the char­ac­ter James are both seen as works in progress and as com­pleted art­works that form part of the ex­hi­bi­tion in the play and in the foyer of the theatre. Both the play and my paint­ings chal­lenge a stilted con­ven­tion that makes sex­u­al­ity and nu­dity taboo. With men this is height­ened as men are often seen as preda­tory or threat­en­ing.”

Ober­hol­ster and Ka­plan have been to­gether as cou­ple for 35 years and were re­cently mar­ried. Ka­plan is a med­i­cal doc­tor who works in HIV re­search.

The play is not bi­o­graph­i­cal. Ka­plan: “The Finkel­steins is about no­body I know – and ev­ery­body I know. None of the char­ac­ters are based on ac­tual peo­ple but they are com­pos­ites of friends, fam­ily, ac­quain­tances and my­self. While the ex­pe­ri­ences are not nec­es­sary my own – ex­cept for that bloody dream – the sub­ject mat­ter is close to me. It is fic­tion drawn from my life and ex­pe­ri­ences.”

In­te­grat­ing the paint­ings into the nar­ra­tive was key to the con­struc­tion of the play: “Yes, Nate was con­ceived as an ac­com­plished reclu­sive fig­u­ra­tive artist. The idea was to have both works in progress on stage as well as com­pleted works that form part of the ex­hi­bi­tion.

“The scene with Mother and Nate choos­ing the paint­ings for the ex­hi­bi­tion en­ables the au­di­ence to par­tic­i­pate in a re­view of the art­work.”

The Finkel­steins are Com­ing to Din­ner runs from Monday to Oc­to­ber 29. PG 16: nu­dity and adult themes. Some shows be­gin at 7pm and some at 9pm so check pro­gramme on the web­site. Tick­ets are R140/R150. Book at https://alexan­der­bar.co.za or call 021 300 1088.

The Finkel­stein’s are Com­ing to Din­ner.

An­drew Laub­scher, David Viviers and Me­gan Fur­niss in

Re­pro­duc­tions of six of Evan Ober­hol­ster’s works are used as props.

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