By Tamara Micner. Directed by John Cooper. Produced by the Chutzpah Festival and the WYM Production Company. At the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre on Tuesday, March 10. Continues until March 15
I’m glad I went back after intermission.
In Act 1, I couldn’t figure out what I was watching or why I was watching it. In What You’re Missing, it’s 1974 in Vancouver and a couple of Jewish young’uns—Ed, who’s 20, and Isabel, 17—go on a blind date and fall for each other. They also fall for each other’s families. Isabel is from Chile and Ed finds her well-off, opera-loving, sexually open parents sophisticated. Isabel loves the warmth of Ed’s Polish-Russian, working-class family. Besides, unlike her own glamorous mom, Ed’s mother encourages Isabel to eat. Eventually, Ed and Isabel hatch a plan to go to Europe together for the summer.
In terms of plot, that’s not much to go on. And Ed and Isabel, who take centre stage in the first act, are kind of boring. They both spend a lot of time whining about their parents, and they share a long make-out scene that’s a snooze fest.
Then, in Act 2, the real stars of the show, the mothers, finally get to meet—and clash—at a family dinner. Instantly, it becomes apparent that Micner is much more interested in relationships than in plot. With Isabel’s mom, Eva, and Ed’s mother, Frida, stirring the pot, What You’re Missing really starts to bubble.
Luisa Jojic’s Eva and Natascha Girgis’s Frida are forces of nature. Eva is a bombshell who dominates her daughter and aches because of the atrocities Pinochet is committing back home. Frida, on the other hand, is a martyred Jewish mama. “Do you know how old I was when my mother died? Nine. Nine!”
Jojic plays Eva with all of the sexy flamboyance of a drag queen. This character isn’t just starring in her own show; she’s writing her own ecstatic reviews. And she’s got a big heart. When Eva speaks of Chile, Jojic goes still—and brings that dark reality home.
Girgis is simply wonderful as Frida. The character is relentless. “Beast!” she says to her husband. “Did you wash your hands? I don’t believe you.” This behaviour could look stereotyped, but Girgis makes it hilarious—and touchingly human.
When things are flowing like this, it’s easier to fully appreciate playwright Micner’s stylistic audacity. There are times when characters speak their subtext flat out to excellent effect—“Your home really intimidates me”—and occasions when they say the same lines simultaneously.
David Roberts’s versatile set, with its big, stylized flowers on the walls and the floor, is a beauty. And Karen Matthews’s period costumes tickle the sartorial synapses.
Ultimately, the script’s greatest strength is its ability to appreciate families in both their eccentricities and their depth.