Tamara Micner’s What You’re Missing is a story about empathy. It invites you to empathize with children who want to be treated as adults, and parents who can’t let go. But despite stunning performances by Natascha Girgis and Luisa Jojic, and firecracker dialogue by Micner, the play lacks a tangible sense of resolution resulting in a night out that, while highly entertaining, remains somewhat unsatisfying.
Its 1974 and Isabel and Ed are in love. They want to travel to Europe together but it looks like their parents may make that impossible. Ed’s parents are war survivors and protective of what little they have. Isabel’s parents are Chilean and at a loss for what to do with what they hear happening back home. The families squawk and shout and show their love for one another in their own expressive or repressive ways while the youngsters plot their escape beneath it all.
Amidst this tumble of topics, the actors turn in stunning performances. Natascha Girgis as Frida Fisher and Luisa Jojic as Eva Schumann knock it out of the park from the moment they take the stage. Girgis’ Frida is like a tightly wound Russian hen whose barbed tongue and deadpan humour had the audience in stitches. Jojic’s Eva is a force of unrepressed honesty and Latin heat as she sashays across the stage providing a perfect comedic counterweight to Gigis’ Frida. From Girgis’ pointed shrieks to the throaty giggles of Jojic, these mothers are fully realized human beings and stalk the stage like the tiger-mom of the 1970s. Stephen Aberle and Jeffrey Renn turn in nuanced performances as the bemused husbands who are just happy to be there while Caitlin McCarthy and Amitai Marmorstein do a solid job of portraying the angst of teenagers chafing at the restrictions of their families’ expectations.
David Roberts’s set design cleverly mixes the homes of the two families on one stage with little more than floral wallpaper and a series of movable panels. However, the slightest movement caused the panels to ripple with a sound like fake thunder – a minor distraction in an otherwise engrossing production.
What You’re Missing covers a lot of territory, from the Holocaust to Pinochet, the sexual revolution to feminism, religion, parenting, and more. With so many ideas there is little time for them to actually be explored, let alone resolved. The result is an ending that feels forced and ultimately unsatisfying.
What You’re Missing is a beautifully acted character play with hilarious dialogue that is sadly let down by an unsatisfying conclusion. Oddly enough though, this doesn’t really seem to matter as it is a laugh-out-loud snapshot of local family dynamics that, while not offering any answers, offers an entertaining night out. Well worth the price of the ticket.
What You’re Missing written by Tamara Micner. Directed by John Cooper. Presented as part of the 2015 Chutzpah Festival. On stage at the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre (950 W 41st Ave, Vancouver, Vancouver) until March 15. Visit https://chutzpahfestival.com/ for tickets and information.