Itai Erdal brings A Very Narrow Bridge to Chutzpah! March 5-13. (photo by Emily Cooper)
There’s the family into which you were born, and the families you create yourself. Itai Erdal has built a life in which he is surrounded by family, both on and off stage. He often shares vulnerable aspects of himself and his family in his work, and he is one of the more collaborative playwrights out there.
While A Very Narrow Bridge, which runs March 5-13 at this year’s Chutzpah! Festival, is about Erdal’s “relationship with his sisters, Judaism and the state of Israel,” it is written by Erdal, Anita Rochon (artistic director of the Chop theatre company) and Maiko Yamamoto (artistic director of Theatre Replacement), is directed by Rochon and Yamamoto, and co-stars Erdal, Anton Lipovetsky, Patti Allan and Tom Pickett. The original score is written and performed by Talia Erdal.
“It is a dream come true for me to work with my sister,” Erdal told the Independent. “She is a brilliant musician and I’ve always admired her talent and her spirit. Talia is much younger than me … and we’ve been very close from the day she was born. In the past few years, she has become religious and, since I am not religious at all, I was worried that it would pull us apart. This fear of mine is indeed addressed in this show, which makes her being here and participating in the show even more special.”
The play’s description is minimal: Erdal “relives a trial in order to obtain a get – a divorce document in Jewish religious law – where everything he knows is at stake.” Its title comes from a teaching of the founder of the Breslov Chassidic movement, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810): “All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be overwhelmed by fear.”
That certainly seems to be Erdal’s approach to creativity. A Very Narrow Bridge is not the first work in which he puts a part of his life on a public stage.
“I’ve always been a very candid and open person,” he said. “I am an extrovert and I enjoy telling stories and being the life of the party. Having said that, in all my shows I talk about very personal things and sometimes about things that are hard to reveal or even to admit to myself. But I’ve learned that when something is hard to talk about, it often makes for good dramatic material, and I really trust my collaborators, who are all brilliant and steer me in the right direction.”
And they have. How to Disappear Completely, which was also a collaborative writing effort, is a one-man show that deals with the last months of Erdal’s mother’s life before she passed away from lung cancer. First produced by Chop Theatre for Chutzpah! 2011, it has since been mounted in many other cities, and continues to tour. It was nominated for Jessie and Dora awards, which both honor excellence in theatre.
Rochon was one of the writers of How to Disappear Completely, and its producer. Erdal, who is also an award-winning lighting and set designer, has worked with Yamamoto before, as well.
“One of the things I like the most about theatre is the collaborative nature of the process, and knowing each other well and understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses makes it that much more rewarding,” he said. “The three of us have done many shows together, in different capacities. I have lit five shows for Maiko’s company, Theatre Replacement, some of which she acted in, some of them she directed and all of them she produced…. All this familiarity makes for a very symbiotic process and a totally democratic room, where no one is precious about anything and the best idea always wins.”
Erdal is the artistic director of Elbow Theatre, which is presenting A Very Narrow Bridge. He explained how the collaboration with his fellow artistic directors on this work came about.
“I always wanted to do a show about my sisters and my complicated relationship with Judaism and the state of Israel, and I always wanted to work with my dear friend Maiko, so I approached her and pitched her this project about three years ago and we’ve been working on this project ever since.
“Initially, we thought that Maiko would be on stage with me, so we approached Anita, who is in my mind the most exciting director in Vancouver. When we started writing this play, the focus shifted from my sisters to a show about immigration and Judaism, we added the three rabbis and Maiko’s role has changed from performer to writer and director.
“Creating a show from scratch is very hard and you never know which direction it will take,” he added, “so it’s important to stay open and do whatever serves the play. The various directions this process took have led us to create an exciting piece of theatre that we are all proud of.”
Would A Very Narrow Bridge exist if Erdal had never left Israel?
“Since this play is about emigrating from Israel, I am sure I couldn’t have written it if I still lived there,” he said. “Even though I am very happy in Canada, immigration is a very hard thing to do and this show is about the lingering doubt in the back of every immigrant’s mind: Did I do the right thing? Would I have been happier had I stayed home?
“When I grew up in Israel, everybody around me was Jewish, so I never felt particularly Jewish. I knew that there were people in the world who weren’t Jews, but I had never met them. Since moving to Canada, I feel a lot more Jewish because I am defined as a Jew by my surroundings. It’s a bit like family: you take it for granted when it’s there and you start appreciating it when it’s gone. Moving to Canada made me appreciate my heritage and my family, and this show is about both.”
A Very Narrow Bridge runs March 5-10, 12-13, 7 p.m., in the Dayson Board Room of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. For tickets ($29/$25/$21), call 604-257-5145 or visit chutzpahfestival.com.