Victoria Fringe Festival 2017 – Horowitz and Mrs. Washington
Review by Caitlin Baird – Showbill.ca Staff Writer
August 28, 2017
Horowitz and Mrs Washington is pitched as two hard-headed characters finding commonality across race, culture, and gender divides. But after ninety sweltering minutes at Congregation Emanu-El, the real conflict of Horowitz seems to be an unwillingness to confront its script.
Mrs Washington (Rosemary Jeffery) is a talented nurse hired to help Samuel Horowitz (David MacPherson), a Jewish septuagenarian, recover from a mugging and stroke. She’s also black.
It is unfair to market the two as equally flawed. Horowitz is vile. White people around him roll their eyes, tolerating bigotry as though it’s mere cantankerousness. This is not a story about racism so much as it is about one racist. He doesn’t so much unlearn his prejudices as come to respect one woman of colour.
First published in 1979, Horowitz is an obviously well-meaning attempt to process the 1977 riots in Harlem. But it’s almost apologetic: the off-stage oppression of the black community echoing a Job-like test of faith and character, a lesson for Horowitz’s benefit. Her trauma: his redemption. She can’t risk seeking other employment because of how violence has affected her family; she has no choice but to forgive even when he refers to black boys as savages and animals. But the attempt to celebrate her compassion simply mythologises her as a Mary Poppins figure.
Horowitz and Mrs Washington feels in many ways like a missed opportunity to engage with our present by commenting on our history. The script offers throwaway mention of police brutality, poverty, discriminatory hiring practices, but none of this seems to make an impact on Horowitz – no pause is given for the audience to process it either. The result is a facsimile of a problematic past instead of a vital critique. Directorial choices could have acknowledged the ongoing oppression of the black community and the new wave of anti-Semitism sweeping over our southern neighbours. Horowitz’s depth is undercut by its adherence to the intentions of four decades ago.
Here’s the catch: this is a wholly competent production. Langham Court fans will appreciate the lovingly-rendered domestic set. Jeffery is as sturdy as a mountain while somehow remaining vulnerable. MacPherson has a frenetic propulsion to his Horowitz which helps sell the show as comedy. The supporting cast is admirable; the live guitarist, charming. Response to Horowitz’s jokes was generous despite many references falling into niche territory.
There’s more to discuss: Horowitz would have been a young man during the Holocaust, which would have undoubtedly been on the minds of original audiences; MacPherson doesn’t always sell the pain of Horowitz’s mobility issues, undercutting major conflict; Horowitz’s hated daughter, in an incredible leopard-print coat, is ridiculed as a manipulative, materialistic faux-philanthropist, a hysteric; there’s a proliferation of jokes about Mrs Washington franchising concentration camps. Theatre should inspire conversation, and Horowitz certainly does.
Horowitz and Mrs Washington will doubtless continue to sell out as on Sunday afternoon. But, despite the talent involved, the aftertaste is more discomfiting than funny, a missed opportunity to wrestle with a troubling script.
Created by Henry Denker
Victoria Fringe Festival
Fringe Site B (Congregation Emanu-El)
- Aug 29 @ 7:00pm
- Aug 30 @ 7:00pm
- Aug 31 @ 7:00pm
- Sept 3 @ 2:00pm