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Review: WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK brings serious laughter and discourse at The Old Globe

Review: WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK brings serious laughter and discourse at The Old Globe

Playing through October 23rd

Don't be fooled by the serious title, WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK is seriously funny. This clever, fast-paced, and thought-provoking comedy asks many questions as it provides laughs and is playing at The Old Globe through October 23rd.

Written by playwright and author Nathan Englander and based on his short story of the same name, WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK pulls no punches with its jokes, and some direct challenges in thinking, which will either make you laugh or gasp- depending on your perspective. This is important since perspective is one of the keystones of the plot.

Debbie (Rebecca Creskoff) and Lauren (Sophie von Haselberg) were close friends when they were in school, and while both were raised Jewish they drifted apart in college as Lauren embraced orthodoxy, while Debbie started questioning her faith. Lauren married and moved to Israel with her husband Mark (Greg Hildreth) and they have 10 daughters. While Debbie and her husband Phil (Joshua Malina) settled in Florida, and have one teenage son Trevor (Nathan Salstone).

It has now been 20 years since they have seen each other and while Lauren and Mark are in town, Debbie invites her long-lost best friend over to reconnect. Phil is less than enthused about the visit and worries that Debbie may find herself easily susceptible to their more conservative religious beliefs.

Once everyone arrives, and the small talk starts the difference in their lives and their perspective on just about everything becomes very clear. From money, friendship, religion, and the lessons to take from the Holocaust- the sparks fly as the casual conversation becomes more of a debate.

Debbie and Lauren both feel their friendship was abandoned, but they have very different ideas on who and why the friendship faltered. Phil and Mark disagree on almost everything, but by the end find themselves more common ground than they could have predicted at the start.

Trevor brings laughs and quiet confidence with his different outlook and belief system from either set of adults. He is a Pastafarian (all hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster) but what he really wants is to fight for social equality and for someone to care about the present here and now instead of arguing about the past or the future.

While grounded in Judaism, all of these debates feel universal. The play is about friendship, how history is processed, anxiety for the future, dogma, and who to trust. It just so happens that the debate about religion is the vehicle in which they are all conveyed.

Review: WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK brings serious laughter and discourse at The Old Globe

The ensemble is top-notch and is a lot of fun to watch. Creskoff's Debbie has lost her faith and is anxious, while von Haselberg is quietly serene in her beliefs. Malina's Phil is quick to needle the righteous Mark with sharp comments and questions, while Mark's smugness and rigidity irritate Phil. Salstone's Trevor is very funny in the confidence of his beliefs along with his bafflement at these adults.

Directed by Globe artistic chief Barry Edelstein, the one-act keeps a brisk pace, as the conversations continue to draw the tension tighter. Performed in the round everyone is always on display and many small actions inform characters, even if they are not speaking at that moment. Wisely, there is an ebb and flow allowing the audience and the performers the opportunity to relax and cut the ever-building tension until everything inevitably comes to a head. By the end everyone finds themselves altered in some way, even the formerly clean house reflects the turbulence that has happened within.

The scenic design by Paul Tate DePoo II is streamlined and beautiful, with lighting by Russell H. Champa, and sound and music by Lindsay Jones. Costumes by Katherine Roth inform the characters on sight.

The title refers to the last scene, a question that Debbie asked in the past and finds herself in the position of answering in the present. It's a question that transcends Anne Frank and can be asked in many situations with life and death circumstances - who do you trust?

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK is funny and thought-provoking; if arguing were a sporting event this would be a championship bout.

How To Get Tickets

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK is playing at The Old Globe through October 23rd.


Photo Credit- (from left) Nathan Salstone as Trevor, Rebecca Creskoff as Debbie, Joshua Malina as Phil, Sophie von Haselberg as Lauren, and Greg Hildreth as Mark in WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK photo by Jim Cox



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