Ester Rada is at the Imperial on May 2 and McPherson Playhouse on June 19. (photo from Ester Rada)
Ester Rada’s most recent recording, I Wish, was released in March. The EP features Rada’s interpretation of four of her “favorite songs of the great Nina Simone”: “I Wish (I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free),” “Sinnerman,” “Four Women” and “Feeling Good.” Rada takes these classic songs made famous by an iconic singer/songwriter and makes them her own. Chutzpah, in the best sense of the word – which makes it fitting that Rada is being presented in Vancouver by Chutzpah!Plus. She plays the Imperial on May 2.
Rada was born in Kiryat Arba, just outside of Hebron, a year after her parents and older brother immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia as part of Operation Moses in 1984.
“Childhood is an amazing period of time because, as a kid, you see only the good in life, and there is a lot of good growing up in a small town, so life was great,” Rada told the Independent about her younger years. “Only when I look back I realize how strange and unnatural it is to grow up between fences and soldiers and fear from your neighbor.”
Raised in a religious household, Rada was exposed mainly to religious music, as well as Ethiopian, of course. Her mother’s decision to move the family to Netanya when Rada was 10 (her parents had divorced many years earlier) turned out to be pivotal.
“Netanya is a bigger, non-religious city near the sea, no fences and borders,” said Rada. “Drawn to this freedom, I allowed myself to enter the secular world. At the age of 12, MTV and VH1 were the platforms I could get music from, and there I was exposed to Stevie Wonder and Babyface, Boyz II Men, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo; their souls entered mine.”
Rada composes, sings and plays multiple instruments. When asked to highlight some of her musical training and/or performing background, she said, “At the age of 10, I was part of Sheba Choir. At the age of 15, my brother bought me my first guitar and I taught myself how to play. At 18, I was recruited to the army as a singer for two years.”
She has lived in Tel Aviv since the age of 21. “It is the best place in Israel,” she said. “The culture and art, music and beauty, freedom and love are the things that took me there.”
Joining Habima Theatre, Rada’s acting career took off before her singing career. She has performed on stage, on television and in film. While she still works in both arts, she admitted, “It’s getting harder combining the two. Last year, I was still acting in the theatre, but when I started touring I had to quit. I still get offers, but I’m not going to do theatre soon – but I’m shooting a movie this summer.”
While she speaks more than one language, Rada sings mainly in English. Her full-length record, Ester Rada – which includes the four songs on her debut solo recording, the EP Life Happens – features all English songs, with the exception of “Nanu Ney.”
“The music I listen to is mainly in English, the first song I wrote at the age of 13 was in English – also, I want to share my love with the whole world and I feel English is an international language,” she explained.
Her music has been described as a fusion, “gracefully combining Ethio-jazz, urban funk, neo-soul and R&B”; “her own blend of ska, reggae, world music, dance beats and jazz.” But Rada told the Independent, “I don’t like to describe it, as there is no one definition. I’m a mix of a lot of things and so is my music. Also, I’m changing all the time, so I believe that the ‘Ester Rada sound’ will change as well.”
Her look certainly has changed over the years, and one can’t help but remark on her unique, keen sense of fashion.
“I’ve always loved beauty,” she said of her style. “I remember myself as a kid wearing my mom’s shoes, clothes and makeup. I love that by wearing different clothes I can become something else.”
And much of her music celebrates such freedom, encouraging listeners to have the courage to explore, to not be afraid, to experience life and to enjoy it. Rada’s musical adventures tell us that she definitely practises what she preaches.
Ester Rada’s 19+ show at the Imperial, 319 Main St., on May 2 starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $36 (students $25), plus GST and service charge, from chutzpahfestival.com or 604-257-5145. She also is scheduled to perform in Victoria at the McPherson Playhouse (rmts.bc.ca or 1-888-717-6121) on June 19, 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $45/$53.
Tracy Neff (Eliza Doolittle) and Warren Kimmel (Henry Higgins) before the phonetics lessons start. (photo by Tim Matheson)
It was hard not to sing along. In fact, the couple in the row behind me couldn’t stop themselves on more than one occasion. So wonderfully witty and familiar are all of the songs in My Fair Lady, which is playing at Massey Theatre until April 26.
Directed by Max Reimer, the Royal City Musical Theatre production is well worth the trip to New Westminster. If you’re like me, the proposition is daunting. I made an afternoon and evening of it, heading out from Vancouver before rush hour, enjoying a walk along the quay and dinner with friends before heading to the theatre for the 7:30 p.m. show. While it took almost an hour to get to New West, I made it back in about 25 minutes. Granted, that’s about 15 minutes longer than if I had been coming from downtown, but the parking was plentiful and free – and I had longer to sing in the car on the way home, which made the drive seem that must faster.
I had forgotten just how funny are the book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner – even 50ish years after they premièred on Broadway! With the stellar cast enunciating brilliantly, nary a word was lost, and the 22-piece live orchestra and 30-plus cast also gave justice to Frederick Loewe’s music.
Of course, the musical’s origins go back further, more than 100 years, to George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion. Phonetics professor Henry Higgins bets phonetics enthusiast Colonel Pickering that he can take Eliza Doolittle, a street seller of flowers, and transform her: “You see this creature with her curbstone English that’ll keep her in the gutter till the end of her days? In six months, I could pass her off as a duchess at an embassy ball. I could even get her a job as a lady’s maid or a shop assistant, which requires better English.” (In Shaw’s version, the bet is three months to “pass that girl off as a duchess at an ambassador’s garden party.”)
Led by Warren Kimmel as Prof. Higgins and Tracy Neff as Eliza, there are many standouts in the Royal City production, including John Payne as the charming scoundrel Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s father, and tenor Thomas Lamont as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, who falls for Eliza at the Ascot (her test run as a lady) when she cheers on the horse Dover to win, hollering, “Come on, Dover! Move your bloomin’ arse!” In addition to Kimmel, other Jewish community members involved in the show are Jonathan Boudin and Kathryn Palmer in the ensemble. Both do very well, but Palmer is particularly expressive, standing out as both a flower seller and a maid, very much at ease on stage.
The entire cast seemed to be having a great time on the preview night I attended, good-humoredly negotiating through a couple of technical glitches, including a tough-to-light candle. And the main two sets, which go from being two sides of a London street corner to Higgins’ study when they are turned around and pushed together, are fabulously detailed and necessarily sturdy (the actors must travel to a balcony on one side, a landing on the other), but they must be quite heavy – every time the halves of it slowly came together to form the study, I released a small sigh of relief.
None of this detracted from the performance. In fact, these instances made it seem more intimate, and reminded me of one of the reasons live theatre is so fun to watch. It was a great show. I got lost in the words, music, sets, costumes (gorgeous!). The cast, crew and musicians all deserve kudos – as Pickering says to Higgins after the ball, “Absolutely fantastic.… You did it!”
For tickets ($26-$47) to My Fair Lady at Massey Theatre through April 26, visit masseytheatre.com or call 604-521-5050.
Emma Slipp and Graham Percy in Arts Club’s Farewell, My Lovely. (photo by Benjamin Laird Arts & Photo)
Shadowy figures, damsels in distress, fedoras tilted just below one eye, ex-cons and gunshots galore fill the stage at the Art Club Theatre this month.
Raymond Chandler’s 1940s work Farewell, My Lovely is brought to life with enough campy villainy and “careful, shweetheart” to fill size 11 cement galoshes. And I loved every minute.
A warning though: if you’re used to minimal plotlines, you might want to bring a notepad to keep track of the twists and turns and numerous characters.
Graham Percy brings tough-nut detective Philip Marlowe to life as he investigates the case of a murdered nightclub manager and the missing girlfriend of an ex-con. Hired by the ex-con and pushed into the case by a lazy detective, Marlowe first tracks down Jessie Florian, the nightclub owner’s widow. A sad case, in a scotch-induced stupor, she throws herself at him, then reacts in disdain, then seems to genuinely want to help him.
On what seems to be a different track, but soon turns out to be connected to the original case, Marlowe takes a job for Lindsay Marriott (Anthony Ingram). Marriott wants Marlowe to act as a bodyguard in an exchange of a cash ransom for a rare jade necklace. That ends with Marlowe knocked unconscious, Marriott dead and a new character – Anne Riordan (Emma Slipp), who turns out to be the daughter of a policeman known to Marlowe.
Riordan knows who the owner of the necklace is – a wealthy woman by the name of Helen Grayle (Jamie Konchak). Riordan wants to join Marlowe on the case, and also demonstrates affection for him. At first, he returns her affection but is reluctant to have her involved. He continues his quest, eventually meeting with a psychic named Jules Amthor (also played by Ingram), who is somehow linked to the necklace and is also involved with drugs.
Marlowe visits with Grayle, then reconnects with Florian after she leads him down a dead-end, and then finally ends up looking for clues on an offshore gambling boat. Here is where all the loose ends are tied up, the answer to the case is found and more people are shot.
Aside from the theme of the gruff-but-good detective versus the bad guys, the thread of Marlowe’s love life keeps popping up. Each of the female characters – Florian, Riordan and Grayle – tries to seduce Marlowe. He sympathetically rejects Florian’s drunken flirtations, seems to have something serious for Riordan, but risks it for the flattering attention of the beautiful and seductive Grayle. After the case is done, he ends up with … well, you’ll have to see it for yourself.
While Percy does an admirable job of reprising the well-known hard-boiled detective role, there’s something about his character I didn’t find believable. While he had the lines and the tone right, he came across as having more of the sloppiness of Peter Falk’s Columbo than the alluring and mysterious attractiveness of Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade. Perhaps it’s unfair to make the comparison, but I just couldn’t see Percy’s character taking the place of Bogart’s Marlowe opposite Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep.
One thing that did impress me in the Arts Club production was the creative use of the actors rearranging the stage set as needed between scenes, while still staying in character. I also admired the choice to use film sequences projected over the set to add context to the action on stage. Dramaturg Rachel Ditor and stage manager Jan Hodgson deserve kudos for the adaptation and presentation of the performance. Well done, shweethearts.
Farewell, My Lovely runs at the Arts Club Granville Island stage until May 2.
Baila Lazarusis a freelance writer and media trainer in Vancouver. Her consulting work be seen at phase2coaching.com.
New Home, New Hope edutains on aliya and the Soviet Union.
With the themes of Passover still reverberating, I read Aliza Ziv’s book New Home, New Hope (Contento de Semrik, 2014). About a single mother making aliya from the Soviet Union with her two young children, the book is about freedom, being strangers in a new land, becoming part of a community, respecting the past while trying to create a more promising future.
The story centres on Marina, Boris, 9, and Tanya, 4, and their experiences integrating into Israel from 1985 through 1995. It is both a specific and universal tale about immigration, and the challenges and opportunities new immigrants face anywhere in the world. However, the specificity is what most intrigued me. Ziv writes with authority and in detail about both the absorption process in Israel at the time and the political situation there and in Russia during that decade.
“This book was written on the basis of my vast experience teaching new immigrants who came to Israel (olim hadashim),” wrote Ziv in an email to the Independent. “These immigrants had to face a new culture, language, values, and had to adapt themselves to their new homeland.”
Ziv explained that she first published the novel in Hebrew in 2002 with the title Difficulty Beyond Words. “Later on, my husband Joe and I decided to translate it into English. It was published in October 2014, with a new name, New Home, New Hope.”
“The book is also based on what we had to face when we and our three children made our aliya in 1967,” added her husband in a separate email. “Aliza was a shlicha, sent to teach modern Hebrew using the ulpan method. She taught in Halifax, Toronto and, finally, in Vancouver at the Talmud Torah.”
While Aliza was born in Jerusalem, Joe grew up in Vancouver, went to VTT and King Edward High School, and graduated from the University of Alberta. “I was active in Young Judaea, one of the first organizers of Habonim, and one of the founders of Camp Miriam,” he said of his local connections.
The Zivs’ personal experience with immigration comes through in Aliza’s writing. She doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulties of leaving an established life, family and longtime friends and integrating into a new country, having to learn another language, find a home, (re)start a career, build relationships, etc., etc., all the while worrying about those you’ve left behind. And your new fellow citizens must also get used to your presence in their country – immigrants seem threatening to some people, to their job security, their traditional way of life, and Ziv also tackles these issues in her novel.
One particularly interesting scene is a party on a moshav at which the more established Israelis are playing old Russian songs, wondering why the new immigrants aren’t joining in. One of the Israelis explains how the chalutzim (pioneers) “came to build the Jewish homeland, and within them was an integration of socialist and even communist values and concepts. And so they established cooperatives, kibbutzim and moshavim…. We grew up with lots of love of the Russian culture, its music and especially its songs. It is really in our blood.” The new immigrants are not convinced, and one points out that many of these songs “not only have a romantic base but also have an antisemitic and militaristic, murderous one. About Bogdan Khmelnsiky, Simon Petliura, have you heard of them?” The debate continues, and it is these parts of New Home, New Hope that I found the most compelling. (I have since looked up both of these men online.)
From a literary perspective, New Home, New Hope is not one of the best books I’ve ever read, and the formatting and editing is not as clean as it would be if it had been put out by a conventional publishing house, but it is one of the more interesting books I have ever read. Ziv is a good writer and she is a fount of knowledge on topics that many readers would profit from – and enjoy – learning about.
New Home, New Hope is available in both digital (Kindle) and printed formats through Amazon.
Micha Biton headlines the community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations April 22. (photo from Micha Biton via Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver)
Seven years in the making, Laura Bialis’ documentary Rock in the Red Zone premièred last October at the Haifa Film Festival, and has since enjoyed several other prominent screenings in Israel. Less than a kilometre from the Gaza Strip, Sderot has been a favorite target of Hamas rocket fire for the last decade and a half – but it has also been the birthplace of a unique style of rock music, producing more than its share of popular bands and singers. One of the rock pioneers featured in the documentary steps off the Israeli silver screen and into Vancouver’s Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on April 22 to lead our community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations – Micha Biton.
JI: Your stop in Vancouver is part of a North American tour for Like Water. Are you traveling with a band? If so, who and what instruments?
MB: Exactly a year ago, my fifth album, Kmo Mayim (Like Water), was released in Israel and we performed a series of concerts around the country in celebration of the release – a tour that was very successful and drew attention from radio, television and media outlets. Subsequently, I performed in both San Francisco and New York and realized that, despite the fact that over half of the audience does not understand Hebrew, the music touched the hearts of those who heard it. For this concert in Vancouver, I am coming with five amazing musicians: Yossi Shitrit (electric guitar), Shir Yerushalmi (electric guitar), Hillel Shitrit (keyboards), Itamar Abohasera (drums), Shai Zrian (bass).
JI: In which other cities are you performing on this tour? For how long are you here?
MB: We are coming directly from Israel, and Vancouver is the first city on our tour. After Vancouver, I will perform in Los Angeles and San Francisco. I’ll be in North America for less than two weeks. Due to my heavy performance schedule in Israel, I couldn’t carve out more time to tour on this trip, but I always manage to make a little time to take in the atmosphere of the cities in which I perform. This is not my first time in Vancouver – last year, during the war between Israel and Gaza, I brought my whole family to Vancouver to visit my wife’s family and I fell in love with your beautiful city and people. I’m excited that on my second trip to Vancouver I will get to perform for the wonderful people that I met in Vancouver.
JI: Like Water is your fourth solo recording?
MB: Kmo Mayim is my fourth solo recording, but it is my fifth album. In 1997, I produced my first album, Tanara, with a group of talented musician and it received critical acclaim in Israel. Soon after, I became a solo artist and, over two decades, I recorded four albums of original music. For me, Kmo Mayim is a very personal album that I wrote about relationships – friendships, love, connection with God. Every song tells a different story, and every story has an open-ended moral attached to it. I’m very proud of this album and I’m happy that my audiences like it.
JI: You are one of the pioneers of the renowned rock music scene in Sderot. Could you share a bit about its development, how it has changed over the years?
MB: In the 1990s, I created a band called Tanara, a period that saw an incredible explosion in the Israeli music scene, especially in Sderot. Bands like Tippex, Knesiyat Hasechel and ours developed a new sound that was special and unique to Sderot, combining rock music with the Moroccan/ethnic sounds of our neighborhoods and our childhoods. In those early days, Sderot was underdeveloped and family-oriented. We didn’t have much to do, so music became our lives and we played and composed in the bomb shelters all of the time. (In those days, we used the shelters for writing music and rehearsing for concerts. Today, unfortunately, they are used as shelters from the rockets fired from Gaza.) In addition, it was a town where everyone knew everyone – there was no such thing as a stranger in our town, and the warmth created by this strong community significantly influenced our ability to create something unique musically.
JI: How about your own style? How would you describe it now versus when you first started out?
MB: My musical style hasn’t really changed much over the years. I’ve been very successful continuing to write ethnic rock in the style that I helped to create and I am lucky that my audience appreciates my style and my sensitivity. While my roots are strongly planted in Sderot, I am different than most of my fellow musicians from the area. At the age of 10, after my father died, I left my Moroccan biological family and was fostered by an Ashkenazi family in Jerusalem. From that early, tender age, I started to live between two cultures, understanding the beauty of each, and using both of them to influence the way I compose and the way I live. It turns out that my foster mother, Galila Ron-Feder, was a modestly successful author in Israel who shortly after my arrival chose to write an entire book based on my life and my journey (and I was only 10!). This book, El Atzmi (To Myself), became her most successful book. It became a series of books, and then a movie. It has been translated into 27 languages. The influence of Galila and her world, and the world of my parents together, helped me to create a new world of my own. My music and the lyrics that I write are very connected to the fact that I have lived most of my life straddled between these two worlds.
JI: A 2007 New York Times article refers to “Biton’s anthem for Sderot,” which was “I don’t leave the town for any Qassam.” What is it like living in Sderot these days? Are you hopeful for the future?
MB: In the quiet days of peace, we love living in this area. My nine brothers and sisters and their families live in Sderot, and my family and I live on the border between Sderot and Gaza in Netiv Haasara, a moshav where we can see Gaza from our backyard. This is my home, and we are very drawn to this place. For the past 10 years, we have lived with the reality that at any moment, day or night, the sirens will start and we have 15 seconds to run to our bomb shelters. Our children have grown up with the feeling that life is beautiful but uncertain. This past summer, and several times in the past, we have been forced to leave our homes and our community because of the imminent danger that the conflict caused. Rockets fell on our yard. A rocket hit my wife’s parents’ home, who live a block away from us, destroying precious family heirlooms. For every rocket that fell last summer, there are hundreds of rockets that have landed around us in the past 10 years that go unreported but, for us, they are very real. When we came to Vancouver last summer, my 4-year-old son looked at me and asked, “Abba, why don’t they have tzeva adom (warning sirens) here in Vancouver?” and I explained to him that not everyone has to deal with rockets falling on their heads all of the time. It was a very sad moment for me.
In 2007, when I wrote the song ‘I don’t leave the town for any Qassam,’ I felt that people were deserting Sderot and all of her beauty because of the situation. I wanted to give them strength and remind them that it was critical to stay and to fight for our hometown. Less than a year later, I wrote HaTzad HaMuar (The Lighted Side) from the same place in my heart. Despite all of the pain, I wrote, don’t forget the light, the hope, the optimism. Because that is really what Sderot is all about. Not a place where rockets fall, but a place of warmth and love and peace.
JI: In the same article, you speak about Hagit Yaso as a star almost certain to rise to the top. She has, of course. And she played here in Vancouver last year for Yom Ha’atzmaut. Are there any current young Sderot musicians for whom we should be keeping watch?
MB: Hagit is an amazing singer and an extraordinary human being. I’m proud to stay that she was one of my most talented students when I taught music and theatre in Sderot. I am so happy for her success and that she represents a new generation of musicians that has emerged from Sderot. The wonderful thing about this young generation is that they are succeeding to continue the tradition of Sderot, bringing exciting new musical projects to Israel and to the world. During one of my tours, I invited her to the stage to sing with me, and it was a really beautiful moment of connection between the pioneers of the music scene and the young musicians of this generation.
One of the new, talented musicians climbing up the ladder at the moment is my cousin Tzafrir Yifrach, who concentrates on world music. He has exceptional talent and is performing quite a bit these days around Israel, and musicians from all over Israel love coming to his recording studio in Sderot to work on their own projects with him. Another rising talent is Nir Vaknin, who is in the process of finishing his debut album.
JI: If there is anything else you’d like to add, please feel free.
MB: During the time that I was in production for Kmo Mayim, I started another project with a musician from the U.S., Lisa Tzur, who was the executive producer of Kmo Mayim. I’ve traveled a lot in North America and have performed at synagogues where the singing was so beautiful that I never forgot it. I wanted to be a part of that somehow. Taking words from the prayer service and from Psalms, as well as a few original texts, we recorded a project that is different than anything else that I have recorded. The idea was to create music that was accessible and singable by audiences that were not necessarily Israeli. Lisa comes from that world (as a lifelong member of the Reform Jewish movement and as an ordained rabbi) and together we created something very special that will be released this summer both in Israel and in the world.
Robert Salvador, left, Anna Galvin and Jay Brazeau in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. (photo by David Cooper)
Ah, the trials and tribulations of brothers and sisters. It’s the few and far between who go through life without the experiencing them. But, as with all humans, the beauty of the sibling dynamic is that just when you think you know someone, they turn around and surprise you. They show a vulnerable side you never thought existed; come through in the crunch to do the right thing; or push you out of your comfort zone, enabling you to discover a life you didn’t think you could have.
Such is the story of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a wonderful play by Christopher Durang that retells the story of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in a contemporary setting.
In the modern-day version, rather than uncle and niece, Vanya (Jay Brazeau) and Sonia (Susinn McFarlen) are a brother and adopted sister left behind to look after ailing parents, while sister Masha (Anna Galvin) – representing Chekhov’s Prof. Serebryakov – has taken off to become a world-famous movie star. She gave up being a respected stage actress and is now known for playing a nymphomaniac serial killer in Sexy Killer, which has spawned five sequels.
Their parents, fans of Chekhov, gave them all names from the Russian’s works. In a nod to Uncle Vanya, the parents left the house to Masha, who hardly ever visits and has only come back this time to sell the home in which her brother and sister live, which would leave them homeless.
In Uncle Vanya, the professor arrives with a much younger second wife; in Vanya, Masha arrives with Spike (Robert Salvador), a much younger and even more self-absorbed male co-star. Masha flounces about the stage, callously rubbing her siblings’ noses in her successes and boasting about her studly lover, while Vanya and Sonia berate her for being absent when her parents were ailing and wallow in their own misery of unfulfilled lives.
Added to the mix is Cassandra (Carmen Aguirre), a clairvoyant who channels spirits, warning Sonia and Vanya of future evils. “Beware Hootie Pie,” she moans. “Beware of mushrooms in the meadow.” Her seemingly nonsensical visions turn out to have merit, although no one can actually interpret what she says in the moment for any practical purposes.
While the play has consistent overtones of regret, jealousy and disdain, it’s not without its humor, due largely to the quips between the homebound brother and sister.
“I had a dream that I was 52 and not married,” laments Sonia at the play’s onset.
“Were you dreaming in documentary?” Vanya retorts.
As well, Vanya, who is gay, draws many laughs from the audience as he ogles Spike, particularly during a hilarious “non” strip-tease sequence.
And while Masha starts off as the uncaring evil stepsister, who won’t even let Sonia talk, it’s pretty clear how unhappy she is after five failed marriages and having never gotten to play her namesake on stage.
In the evening, the three siblings (Vanya and Sonia, reluctantly) and Spike head to a costume party, where Masha hopes to meet a realtor who will sell the house.
Sonia takes the one opportunity she has to upstage her sister by dressing in a beautifully sequined gown.
After they return, Masha finds out she has lost Spike to a younger woman, but, in Cinderella fashion, Sonia has met a man at the party, opening up possibilities for romance. Using “voodoo,” Cassandra causes Masha to have a change of heart.
In the epilogue of the performance, Vanya is presenting a play that he wrote, only to have Spike disrupt the flow by checking his cellphone. This sends Vanya into a rant of how things used to be, much like Chekhov’s doctor in Uncle Vanya. He grieves over the loss of simpler times and fumes, “There are 785 TV channels. You could watch the news that matches what you already think!”
Director Rachel Ditor’s experience with the playwright goes back to when she performed in Durang’s Beyond Therapy, in 1980. She calls his writing “fabulously subversive and hilarious” and rightly points out that rather than being quelled by mainstream culture, it is the mainstream that has picked up on his theatrical cues.
From the moment Brazeau entered the stage looking like Rip Van Winkle in a three-quarter-length nightgown and let out a big yawn (as Chekhov directed Uncle Vanya to do), I knew this was going to be a good play. While the secondary roles were somewhat overacted, they were entertaining, nonetheless, and the poignant portrayals of Vanya and Sonia combine with a great script to deliver a thoroughly enjoyable play from start to end.
Vanya runs at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until April 19.
Baila Lazarusis a freelance writer media trainer in Vancouver. Her consulting work be seen at phase2coaching.com.
Arne Larsen as Tevye and Ruth Kult as Golde in Gallery 7 Theatre’s production of Fiddler on the Roof. (photo by Dianna Lewis)
Growing up in a Jewish home, I always cherished Fiddler on the Roof and its Sholem Aleichem inspiration. I had a copy of the film in the entertainment room, but the recent Gallery 7 Theatre production was only the second time I have seen this classic as a live play, the first time being in high school.
Gallery 7 did an amazing job highlighting Jewish culture and tradition to audiences last month in Abbotsford, an area that is sparsely Jewish. The company’s executive and artistic director, Ken Hildebrandt, noted that all of the artists and technicians pursued the project with the utmost “passion, dedication and love,” and it showed.
Set in the fictional shtetl of Anatevka in czarist Russia, the musical’s subject matter isn’t for the faint-hearted. Tevye, Golde, their daughters and the other villagers experience the trauma of pogroms, the beauty of love and the strength of faith, offering lessons relevant to us even now.
What word best describes the play? Triumph. Triumph over poverty (the daughters married who they wish despite the lack of dowry) and adversity (antisemitism), and the triumph of women (including in the cast, as the fiddler was played by Abigail Curwen) and tradition (adapting to modernity).
Tevye is played with realism by Arne Larsen. Outside of the occasional accent slip, Larsen plays the role as if he were living in czarist Russia himself. He sings with honesty, and truly seems to wrestle with the Divine to honor his faith. Tevye is the papa, the one to be obeyed, but, as the play develops, he shows a remarkable love for his daughters, allowing them to marry who they wish – as long as they are Jewish. Even in the case of Chava (Anastasia McIntosh), who is “dead to him” because she marries Sasha (Sheldon Jeans), a non-Jew, Tevye wishes, “May G-d be with you.” Then there is Perchik (Kevin Hegeman), who turns everything into a political statement. At one point, he compares the biblical Laban to a modern employer in the socialist sense, one of the play’s many comedic moments.
The shtetl world was brought to life by the costume and set design of Rafaella Rabinovich, who has a BA from the Rafeket Levy Design School for the Performing Arts in Tel Aviv. She told the Independent that it was both a great privilege and a wonderful challenge to put together. (For a profile of Rabinovich, see the article “Relishing theatre life.”)
The play’s one main set, simple by theatre standards, was a very colorful depiction of a village house. The costumes accented some of the characters’ meanings. For example, the police outfits were distinguished for their detail and, when they appeared, one knew trouble was to follow. Tevye was costumed with tzizit and hat, which was used to great purpose at the end of the play when he notes that perhaps Jews wear hats because they are forced to move so often.
The rabbi in the play, however, more resembled a modern non-Orthodox rabbi in appearance with his clean shave and, at one point, he is caught drinking rather than praying. This bit of artistic licence contributed to Walt Derksen’s performance seeming less believable from a historical perspective. The play could have also used more attention to lighting.
While it wasn’t Broadway, Gallery 7’s Fiddler was a believable drama about triumph over adversity, and the strength of love. Many audience members were visibly moved. And, for this reviewer at least, the play brought a little welcome Yiddishkeit to his neighborhood.
Gil Lavieis a freelance correspondent, with articles published in the Jerusalem Post, Shalom Toronto and Tazpit News Agency. He has a master’s of global affairs from the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.
Allan Zinyk as Patrice, left, and David Adams as Bryan in Elbow Room Café: The Musical (Phase 1). (photo by Emily Cooper)
Allan Zinyk and David Adams are veritable doppelgangers for Patrice (Patrick) Savoie and Bryan Searle, who started the Elbow Room Café on Jervis Street in 1983. While the restaurant moved to Davie Street in 1996 and the couple has since taken on another business partner, the heart of the café is Savoie and Searle, and, for many people, “home” is wherever they are.
Elbow Room Café: The Musical (Phase 1) really captures the depth and warmth of their relationship with each other, as well as with their staff and customers. It is a fitting and well-deserved homage to two men who have not only built a successful business, but a community, not to mention raising tens of thousands of dollars over the years for the charity A Loving Spoonful.
The Studio 58 and Zee Zee Theatre collaboration is a work in progress, but its Phase 1 opening on March 21 was a pretty polished effort. It will be interesting to see what changes on the path to its final form. Already, the musical – book and lyrics by Dave Deveau, music and lyrics by Anton Lipovetsky, directed by Cameron Mackenzie – arouses a range of emotions, from belly laughter to touching sentimentality. The songs are catchy and singable, the characters are memorable and relatable, the choreography is appropriately silly and sexy.
Led by professional actors Zinyk and Adams, the Studio 58 cast was top-notch. The audience gets lost in the life dramas that take place at the café: Tim and Tabby, a tourist couple from Kansas who stop in for a bite to eat on their way to Stanley Park, and are introduced to a whole new world; will Jackie and Jill, broken up for 253 days, get back together, despite all they’ve said to each other and what has happened since their breakup?; will the shy girl (aka Menu) find love at the café?; and Amanda, who finds out as her bachelorette party comes to an end that her wedding won’t take place as planned. Then there’s Patrice and Bryan, both getting older and a little slower – what’s to become of the café once they are no longer able to run it?
These main storylines are all played out in front of an odd, and endearing, assortment of other customers. One of the many notable aspects of this musical is how the supporting cast reacts to what’s going on around them. The full-cast musical numbers are big and bold, and there are some unique roles, such as Autograph, who takes on the personas of various celebrities who have eaten at the café, Tom Selleck and Sharon Stone, for example.
Since the musical is only in the first of a planned three phases, it is likely that the stories, dialogue and/or music will change. Considering who’s involved in the production, however, it should only get better. Then maybe afterward they can start on Jewish Independent: The Musical.
Elbow Room Café is at Studio 58 until March 29. As the musical’s program notes, there is “coarse language and immature content.” For tickets and information, visit studio58.ca.
Local artist Lauren Morris loves every aspect of her art form. “I even like the smell of paints,” she said in an interview with the Independent. “When I come to my studio, the smell jolts me into work. It’s like a kick-start to my imagination.” She added, “I didn’t start painting until I immigrated to Canada. I’m a graphic designer by education.”
Upon graduating as a graphic designer in her native Cape Town, she worked in her chosen field for awhile and then decided to see the world. She backpacked through Europe. “In Israel, I met an American girl in ulpan. We became friends, and she invited me to come to America. I thought I would only travel there for a few months but I stayed for five years. I found a job there as a magazine graphic designer. I also took some part-time art classes in Washington, D.C.”
Afterwards, she returned home and worked as a graphic designer for the book and magazine industry. She also started a family. Unfortunately, the political situation in South Africa was becoming increasingly unstable. Concerned about their growing children, the family decided to emigrate. They arrived in Vancouver in 2000.
“When we came,” Morris remembered, “I couldn’t find work as a graphic designer, so I started painting at home.”
Like any artist, she wanted to display her work, wanted people to see it and perhaps even buy it, but she was new in town, didn’t know anyone and had no connections in the local art community.
“I started hanging my paintings in coffee shops,” she recalled. “Some shops in Vancouver want to display and sell art, so they advertise on Craigslist. I looked for such ads, applied and my paintings sold very well in many of them. I wasn’t a snob. I would accept any offer. Most of my paintings sold not even through a coffee shop but through a fish and chips place in Kerrisdale.”
The sales were encouraging, so she rented a studio. “I wanted to be more professional,” she said with a smile. “But a studio cost money. To pay the rent, I started teaching.”
She still offers art workshops and she teaches mostly adults. “I love showing people what they can do. Some say: ‘Oh, I don’t know how to paint.’ They are wrong. Everyone can paint. They just need someone to guide them. Afterwards, they are amazed and awed by their own works. This is the most satisfying part of teaching – when my students discover things about themselves. It makes them happy and it makes me happy.”
Making people happy seems to be a requirement in her artistic approach: in her workshops, in the classes she taught at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital, and in her own personal art. That’s why flowers play such an important role in her creative output.
“Flowers make people happy,” she said. “When a painting of flowers hangs on a wall, it changes the feel and mood of a room, brightens it.”
Her flowers are not photographic. In fact, some of her paintings bear only a remote resemblance to real-life blooms. Her images lean towards the abstract, like symphonies of colors and shapes. Light and reflections, movements and shadows weave into interlacing harmony in her pictures, while flowers provide an inspiration.
“I don’t like to be too literal in my art,” she said. “Art is my imagination. It always springs from somewhere, from a point of reference, a photo I took or found online, or an idea I see in another artist’s work. Then I take my paintbrush and start building colors. Most of my paintings are color compositions. When I paint, I let my paintbrush take over. It’s like putting together a colorful puzzle, but I’m guided by my unconsciousness.”
Not only the colors but also the shapes of flowers attract Morris because they are so versatile.
“People see different shapes in my flowers,” she said. “Sometimes they see something I didn’t even know was there.”
Because of the expressionistic ideas of her paintings, she rarely works outside. “I tried,” she explained with a chuckle. “But I paint on the floor, on my knees, with the canvasses against the wall. It’s not convenient outside.”
Often, her process resembles a gym exercise, very physically taxing, so she doesn’t work for more than a couple of hours at a time. But she loves every minute of it. “When I see a painting unfolding, going in a certain direction, when my imagination flows, it’s the best moment for me.”
She enjoys listening to classical music while she paints, and the melodies seem to transfer to her canvasses. The different paints and hues splash and chase each other, like notes of a melody. The combined arrangement is invariably richer than its component parts, and the same is true for Morris’ paintings. Since her first coffee shop exhibit in 2001, her recognition in Vancouver has grown considerably. In the last few years, she has participated in Artists in Our Midst and the Eastside Culture Crawl. She has displayed her paintings in several group shows. And now her art is featured at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery. Her solo show, A Tapestry of Flowers, opened on March 18 and is on until April 12. For more on Morris’ work, visit lmdesignsstudio.com.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Seymour Bernstein, left, and Ethan Hawke. (photo from Ramsey Fendall/Risk Love LLC)
Two kinds of people will fall under the spell of Seymour: An Introduction, Ethan Hawke’s respectful and affectionate study of virtuoso pianist, composer and teacher Seymour Bernstein. Fans of classical music, of course, who will savor this ode to the beauty and craft of solo piano as 81 minutes of heaven. The other audience is anyone who ever wrestled with the pursuit of ambition, the hollowness of material success and the double-edged sword of uncommon talent.
Bernstein had all those things, but commercial pressures and the anxiety of going on stage whittled away the pleasure of playing concerts. At 50, he retired from public performance to compose and teach.
He had been aware for awhile, however, that he was unable to harmonize his career with the experience. After his celebrated 1969 performance at Alice Tully Hall in New York, he told the friend hosting the reception, “If you love me, you’ll never let me play in public again.”
To his friends, Bernstein is a mentor, philosopher and guru of how to attain satisfaction amid the vicissitudes of a life spent creating ephemeral art. Presumably that’s why Hawke, an actor and novelist, was moved to expose Bernstein’s hard-earned wisdom to a wider audience (without adding much in the way of inspired and/or distracting artistic flourishes).
Seymour: An Introduction opened March 20 for what will likely be a short run. That shouldn’t be interpreted as further evidence of the death of civilization, mind you, for classical compositions haven’t been America’s popular music since Elvis left Memphis.
Most of the film’s running time is devoted to the longtime Manhattan resident working with students and engaged in conversation, notably with the New York Times architecture critic and pianist Michael Kimmelman.
Bernstein is an astute teacher, and he’s exceedingly articulate on the subjects of music, discipline and education. But somewhere past the midpoint of the film he begins to seem less avuncular and more pedantic.
That stems, in part, from his willingness to talk about certain things – that we sense he’s expounded on countless times – while avoiding other subjects. There’s a clear limit to how much he’s going to reveal about himself, and how vulnerable he’ll be in front of the camera. He likes being revered, but on his terms.
All Bernstein says about his New Jersey upbringing is that there was no music in the house, and that his family didn’t own any records. He still bridles at the memory of his father’s perennial joke – “I have three daughters and a pianist” – as evidence that his old man couldn’t relate to him.
Perhaps it is this separateness, imposed on great talents by mere mortals, that pained Bernstein throughout his decades as a concert pianist. If so, why doesn’t this lifelong bachelor mention a single romantic relationship? Isn’t that an important element of living a satisfying life?
The one person who does merit his affection is the late, great English-Jewish pianist Sir Clifford Curzon, with whom Bernstein studied. That recollection has a self-serving coda, though, namely that Bernstein wrote a letter out of the blue to Queen Elizabeth that presumably contributed to Curzon receiving a knighthood.
That said, Bernstein is the teacher that everyone covets – knowledgeable, experienced, appreciative, precise, encouraging and invested. If you’re still recovering from the bark and bite of J.K. Simmons’ Oscar-winning turn in Whiplash, Seymour: An Introduction is the perfect balm.
Seymour: An Introduction is rated PG for some mild thematic elements.
Michael Fox is a writer and film critic living in San Francisco.