What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

A Disenchanting Title for an Amazing, Well-Written Play that is Also a Comedy 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

(L) Greg Hildreth as Mark, Rebecca Creskoff as Debbie, Sophie von Haselberg as Lauren, and Joshua Malina as Phil. Photo Jim Cox 

I will start with this so it does not seem I am saying the same thing about each show I have seen lately. So, The Outsider is to Scripps Ranch what What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank is to The Globe. I believe it is their best play yet. Fast, very funny, and with inside baseball jokes about Jewish people, the religion, and things that come with it. 

The piece written by Nathan Englander was first published in The New Yorker in 2011 and then included in a 2012 short story collection by Englander along with seven others. The inspiration for the title was Raymond Carver's 1981 short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

Scheduled to premiere at the Old Globe in 2020, 'What We Talk About... has been patiently waiting for over two years like its director Barry Edelstein shared in the program's Director's note. The stage ping-pong dynamic starts with married couple Debbie (Rebecca Creskoff) and Phil (Joshua Malina) who live in Florida in an amazing home and have a teenage son, Trevor (Nathan Salstone). Debbie went to a traditional Jewish educational institution (Yeshiva) with her friend Lauren (Sophie von Haselberg). As life took over, Debbie became less religious and Lauren did the opposite. She married a man by the name of Mark (Greg Hildreth), moved to Jerusalem, and became Orthodox. They have 10 kids, all girls, and now go by the names of Shoshana and Yerucham. Debbie and "Shoshie" as she calls her, have not seen each other in years. But they finally will have their moment because the couple is visiting from Jerusalem and has accepted the invite to stop by for a drink. Debbie is nervous because the only challah bread Phil could find is stale and there is not really kosher food she can offer. Once reunited, Phil starts taunting everybody about religion, beliefs, and practices. The husbands poke each other on their religious styles Phil calls the Hasidic community "insular" and Mark slashes back saying that their Judaism is an anemic version like skim milk. (I am not laughing, you are).

Nathan Salstone as Trevor, Rebecca Creskoff as Debbie, Joshua Malina as Phil, Sophie von Haselberg
as Lauren, and Greg Hildreth as Mark. Photo Jim Cox 

The intensity gets more alive when Trevor appears and tells the guests that he is not Jewish and that his religion is spaghetti, trying to prove a point. Trevor leaves for baseball practice and as the vodka pours become larger, so do the conversations but the walls as well, figuratively speaking. Phil praises Lauren's wig, and there is a playful exchange. Debbie finds Trevor's marihuana stash and Lauren proposes they revisit good old times and get high. After they do, the munchies arrive, and surprise! there are kosher snacks/junk food in the pantry that they can munch on. The girlfriends also decide to revisit an old game called "the Anne Frank game" in which they speculate by taking turns while role-playing who among their non-Jewish friends would save them in the event of a second Holocaust. The headline for this blogview refers to the play having a disenchanting title because it definitely is confusing and when realizing it is a comedy, even more so. I understand the meaning of it and the word game behind it. I also think it does a disservice to the piece because it is such a good one. People may steer clear without giving it a chance. 

Part of Edelstein's direction has the husbands moving around the kitchen counter where the story takes place and during most of the interaction, they are framing an X which looks amazing and it illustrates the fast pace along with the dialogue. Sort of like a Pacman game. Definitely outstanding. 

All five actors are fabulous. Rebecca Creskoff gives both sides of the coin with serious and funny. Her comedic ability is on point and she steals the "marihuana scene" where they are all getting high. Your stomach is going to hurt from laughing. Greg Hildreth's voice is enchanting. Deep, crisp and he has this naturality that he moves around with. Pairs really well with stage wife Sophie von Haselberg who has this soft, sophisticated style that is paced and held completely. She is also Bette Midler's daughter and that is pretty cool too. Nathan Salstone as the feather ruffler Trevor has an in-and-out type of role but it is enough. It is performed so splendidly that when he is off stage, his dialogue lingers. Joshua Malina is very funny. He leads the entertaining pack as well as some heavy conversations about lifestyle choices and religion, what to believe and how to go about it. I felt during the performance that I saw that Malina was a tad forced and he would jump his lines a little, I would have wanted to see a smoother portrayal out of him. Even though the play goes deep into the "Jewish" jokes it is pretty universal and that is part of why it is so good. The title should have been 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Religion' but I am not a playwright so...
Joshua Malina as Phil, Sophie von Haselberg as Lauren, Rebecca Creskoff as Debbie, and Greg Hildreth. Photo by Jim Cox 

Paul Tate dePoo III's scenic design is beautiful and magical where both kitchen space and patio are framed. There is a rain scene, water pouring inside the theatre and all, that is absolutely breathtaking. The play has a couple of scenes that are worth the trip. This is definitely one of them.

The Globe continues to push the envelope and that is a good thing. It leaves you thinking "What would I do?". "I Would NEVER play that give but if I did..."

I highly recommend this play. It is definitely worth your effort and time.

Currently playing until October 23. For performance times and ticket prices please click HERE.


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