House of Many Tongues – Tarragon Theatre

By Olya Ryabets

House of Many Tongues at Tarragon, written by Jonathan Garfinkel and directed by Richard Rose, is probably one of the biggest theatrical surprises I’ve had in a long while.

Given the subject matter (Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and the director (Rose is the guy who brought us ‘Scorched’), I fully expected a drawn-out family saga, ripe with preachy sentimentalism aimed to mollify our white liberal guilt. What I got instead, though, is a pleasing (if naïve) evening of magical realism and laughs.

The play is a story about a house shared between an Israeli and a Palestinian, as well as their unruly teenage children.  As such, it touches on not only political, but also family issues. It runs for two hours, with intermission, and they go by in a blink.

I found that the show warmed up slowly, opening on a somewhat melodramatic note, but by the middle of the first act the cast had the audience by the balls. I thoroughly enjoyed the acting in this play.

Fiona Highet is irresistible as the House, Raoul Bhaneja is dead-on as the ironic Camel and Hrant Alianak is hilarious as Abu Dalo, the Palestinian who has claims to the house.

Daniel Karasik and Erin MacKinnon do an excellent job at capturing teenage awkwardness. Niki Landau is sharp as Rivka, Daniel’s tutor. Howard Jerome seemed to do a fine job on Shimon, Daniel’s Jewish father, but the writing for the character seemed a bit flat compared to the witty monologues and repartees of the others. 

This I add to my list of elements that made the show a little uneven – the simple, clean set was marred by unattractive (and redundant) projections; the several well-chosen (and well-placed) songs were mixed in with melodramatic (and once again – redundant) sound cues; the writing and direction jumped from fairly polished and sharp to flat and sentimental.

Overall, the show doesn’t dig too deep – but due to the well-paced energy of the cast, toilet humor gets the laughs, and sob stories of dead mothers get our sympathies. . The play strikes a precarious balance – one more sad note and the entire thing would be simply too mushy, one more joke about cunulingus and it would become insensitive.

As it is, the play did not change my life, but I sure had a good time.

House of Many Tongues runs until Jun 3, 2009 at Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgeman Ave)
– Showtimes are Tues – Sat 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 2:30pm
– Ticket prices range from $20 – $38, with rush tickets available Friday nights for $10
– Advance tickets are available online, or from the box office at (416) 531-1827

0 thoughts on “House of Many Tongues – Tarragon Theatre”

  1. The cunulingus issue might have been found amusing by 1st year university students but by 3rd year would have been seen as immature and pointless
    The wall coming down after the couple kiss was grade 8 theatre
    The reference at the end to the generals wifes death took away from what might have been a somewhat meaningful story – perhaps it was put in to satisfy the Bnai Brith
    This is the first truly awful and juvenile show I have seen at Tarragon

  2. Okay. But can you speak for every other person who saw this show or is about to see it? My guess would be – no. In my point of view, a 3rd year student might find the “cunulingus issue” immature and pointless, but an objective, adult theatre professional might realize that her opinion is not the only one that matters and let it go at that. However, since we’re indulging our subjectivity here – I have seen many awful and juvenile shows and not only at Tarragon, to a point where I believe that it is only through gently nudging our community towards higher standards are we going to get results. We should aim to constructively criticize and inform, with the hope that it will yield a better product next time. I would say that blindly revolting against our city’s theatrical reality is the truly immature thing here. Do you really hope to transform your audience’s needs by insulting them?

    Thank you for your comment!

    Cheers : – )

    – O.

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