`Kvetch': British-Yiddish satire

Kvetch Comedy by Steven Berkoff. Directed by the author. ``Kvetch,'' the absurdist satire at the Westside Arts Theater (Downstairs), borrows its title from a Yiddishism meaning roughly to grumble...complain...fret ...fuss. For British playwright Steven Berkoff, it also covers ``anything that tends to change the control one ordinarily has over one's body and emotions'' - in this case producing the Angst and insecurity of its characters. Mr. Berkoff's ``uncommon comedy'' offers more kvetches than you could shake a schtick at. The emotions are raw and so is the language.

By the end of two sketchy acts, Donna (Laura Esterman) has left querulous husband Frank (Kurt Fuller) for George (Hy Anzell), one of Frank's customers. Frank's love life has degenerated into a homosexual relationship with Hal (Mitch Kreindel), the flustered dinner guest of the opening scene. The urban American domestic m'enage also includes Frank's unwelcome mother-in-law (Ruth Jaroslow). A less congenial clutch of characters would be difficult to imagine. Or is that critical kvetching?

Besides its explicitness and Yiddish colloqualisms, the dialogue makes adroit use of a stream of asides in which the characters express their inner feelings. These are bound up with the fear which Berkoff has explained that ``Kvetch'' is all about. But fear without the antidote of compassion is a bleak prospect.

The author has served as his own director of a performance that matches his hard-edged writing. Designer Don Llewellyn's starkly furnished stage is adorned by a backwall mural of a wild expressway to anywhere. The production was lighted by Jason Kantrowitz and costumed by Ruth A. Brown.

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