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.
Andrew Laubscher, David Viviers and Megan Furniss in
Reproductions of six of Evan Oberholster’s works are used as props.