Cindy Hirschberg-Schon, left, as Maria Merelli and Tracy Labrosse as Tatiana Racón in A Comedy of Tenors, at Metro Theatre Oct. 4-19. (photo by Sophie Gardner)
Tracy LabrosseTracy Labrosse“What could possibly be better than escaping life with a frantically funny farce? A Comedy of Tenors has slamming doors, mistaken identities, ridiculous dialects and a very suggestive tongue prop. What else do you need?” said Tracy Labrosse about the upcoming production at Metro Theatre.
Set in 1936, A Comedy of Tenors centres on Henry Saunders’ efforts to put on the greatest concert that Paris has ever seen – The Three Tenors – but he will only succeed if he “can keep an amorous Italian superstar and his hot-blooded wife from causing runaway chaos.” Written by Ken Ludwig, the Metro production, which runs Oct. 4-19, is directed by Kayt Roth.
Labrosse, who works at Vancouver Talmud Torah, plays Tatiana Racón.
“I love to be challenged in each production I’m in [and] Racón has definitely been a fun challenge for me,” Labrosse told the Independent. “I tend to get the ‘girl next door’ roles, so playing a sexy Russian opera singer has certainly allowed me to tackle a type that I don’t normally get the chance to play. She’s bold, she’s vivacious, and she’s a troublemaker.”
Jewish community member Cindy Hirschberg-Schon takes on the role of Maria Merelli, the feisty wife of tenor Tito (played by Carlos Vela-Martinez).
“I tried out for both Maria and for Racón,” said Hirschberg-Schon. “I thought I’d keep the options open. But I have a lot more in common with Maria.”
She said, “Maria is her own woman – strong and independent – but she is also very loving. Maria has a lot of me in her. She and Tito have been married for 25 years and I have been married for 27 years. From their fierce love to their fierce fighting, I can relate.”
In addition to her role, Hirschberg-Schon also helped on the costume front.
“I work in fashion as a technical designer, so I know about apparel,” she explained. “I did costumes once before but, being also an actor, it would be a lot to take on. But we needed help so I stepped in…. I measured the full cast, which for me is not a big deal. I helped out when we needed a few extra eyes to find costumes in both the Metro costume closet and also the kindness of Vagabond Players [and their] closet.”
Hirschberg-Schon studied acting before changing career directions.
“I went to college for acting in Toronto for two years,” she said, “but then decided I did not want to be a waitress the rest of my life and went to fashion school. I then concentrated on career, marriage and motherhood. After 20 years, I finally decided it was time to get back to the stage, with the support of my husband and family. So, I guess I have been acting for seven years plus a few.”
“I’ve been in love with theatre ever since I was given my first speaking role in a school play at the age of 9,” said Labrosse. “I went to theatre school after high school, and have been involved in theatre consistently ever since. It’s a lifelong love affair for me.”
Labrosse said she didn’t audition for any specific role in A Comedy of Tenors. “For me,” she said, “if the story is something I’m drawn to – something that I find intriguing – then I want to be a part of it. After that, it’s up to the director. In this case, Kayt saw me as Racón, and I’m so glad she did. It’s such a fun role to play.”
Both Labrosse and Hirschberg-Schon have been in other Metro productions.
“I’ve had the pleasure of acting, producing and directing at the Metro Theatre. A Comedy of Tenors is my 10th production there,” said Labrosse. “There are so many wonderful community theatre organizations in the Lower Mainland and I think I’ve worked with most of them over the years. Some of my favourite previous productions include The 39 Steps, Steel Magnolias, Moon Over Buffalo (also a Ken Ludwig show) and Wait Until Dark.”
Among Hirschberg-Schon’s favourite roles are Evil Stepmother in the award-winning Cinderella panto with Metro Theatre and Lady Edith in Metro’s Robin Hood and Marian panto; Penny in Vagabond Players’ You Can’t Take it With You; Olga in Royal Canadian Theatre Company’s Bedfull of Foreigners; and Yenta in a Toronto production of Fiddler on the Roof.
“Growing up,” said Hirschberg-Schon, “I watched my mother, Marion Hirschberg, on the stage. She was very involved in community theatre and is still on the stage now, at 80. She taught me so much and I am in awe to see her perform. I have theatre in my blood and stage is home to me. But the biggest thrill is to share it with an audience – because theatre does not become alive until there is an audience to share it with.”
To be a part of that audience, tickets can be purchased by leaving a message at the Metro Theatre box office, 604-266-7191, or visiting tickets.metrotheatre.com. Note that A Comedy of Tenors “contains strong language and sexual references.”
Jonathan Winsby plays birthday boy Robert in Company, which opens Oct. 11. (photo by Nicol Spinola)
For his 35th birthday, Robert (Bobby), a bachelor, has invited a group of his married friends over to celebrate. And, married or not, you can be a part of Bobby’s party by attending Raincity Theatre’s production of Company, which runs Oct. 11-26 at “Bobby’s Apartment,” 2531 Ontario St.
The immersive production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company is being produced by the same creative team that was behind last fall’s award-winning immersive production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Co-producers are Chris Adams (director), Nicol Spinola (choreographer) and Jewish community member Kat Palmer. Also part of the Company creative team was researcher Michael Groberman. And there are other Jewish connections.
“It is only notated in the script that Paul, Amy’s fiancé, is Jewish,” Adams told the Independent. “However, it is mentioned that half of Amy’s friends are Jewish, meaning a few other characters probably are, too – most notably, Larry, played by Jewish community member Warren Kimmel.”
Larry is Joanne’s third husband. Joanne has known Robert for years.
“Larry is extremely wealthy and successful,” said Kimmel. “He is probably the oldest character in the play. His parents split when he was a child but he is fascinated by his wife and very happily married.”
Just now old enough to play the character, Kimmel quipped, “I intend to make him look younger than his real age.”
Company debuted in 1970.
“This piece is all about commitment and partnership and marriage,” said Kimmel. “It was written not long after the pill was invented, which, along with other cultural changes, threw into question traditional ideas around marriage, monogamy and the way men and women in society commit to each other.”
He added, “As is usually the case, Sondheim and his collaborators have created perhaps the most incisive examination of these issues and so they resonate even today. Every song is so specific and true to life that everyone can identify and, if you haven’t had these exact thoughts yourself, you will definitely have a friend or family member who is in just such a situation. Add to that the incredible music and one hell of a cast and what you have from Raincity is another ‘must see’ piece of theatre.”
As for Raincity’s choice to produce Company, Adams said, “Oftentimes, as it goes with equity collectives, it is a group of people who find a great show and want to see it produced. In this case, not only did I know the show was great, I knew we had Jonathan Winsby to play Bobby. Having worked with Jonathan on last year’s Sweeney Todd, I knew he was more than up for the challenge of this role and I knew it was on his bucket list to play. Sondheim is popular with actor/singers because it is difficult. People want to sing it and audiences seem to want to hear it. We are blessed as well that Company comes with such a strong book and brilliant songs.”
As with Sweeney Todd, the audience will be in the thick of things, specifically, in the midst of Bobby’s birthday party. “We have a bar set up to sell drinks, you can purchase birthday cake or come early and play a song on the piano – everything a fun 1969 birthday party should have,” said Adams. “The audience will grab their purchased seating – you can buy a pillow/floor seat, a couch, a chair or a bar stool – and cozy up to enjoy the show. While there is, obviously, no audience participation, they will feel very much included in the festivities and witness this brilliant journey of a man struggling through his 35th year.”
There is limited seating at the party, however, and Adams said the run is already more than 80% sold out. “If anyone is wanting tickets,” he said, “I’d suggest they don’t wait.”
Steven Skybell and Jennifer Babiak in the Yiddish version of Fiddler on the Roof, which is slated to run through January 2020 in New York City. (photo by Matthew Murphy)
It’s no wonder the current Fiddler on the Roof on stage in New York City has been extended several times since it debuted Off-Broadway last summer. The immense draw isn’t just the splendid choreography, the well-known beloved music, the compelling, stellar cast, the emotional dialogue – it’s the authenticity that strikes a chord. Based on a collection of vignettes by Yiddish literary icon Sholem Aleichem, this production of Fiddler is entirely in Yiddish, the guttural tongue that the people on whom the characters are based would have used in real life.
This is the first time in the United States that Fiddler is being staged in Yiddish. Directed by the venerable actor Joel Grey, it opened at the Lower Manhattan’s Museum of Jewish Heritage in July 2018 and transferred to the more commercial Stage 42 near Times Square in February 2019. It’s expected to run through January 2020. It has both English and Russian supertitles.
“When Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish first premièred last summer for a limited eight-week run under Joel’s vision, it was a show that moved people to tears and I knew it had to be seen by as many people as possible,” producer Hal Luftig told the Independent.
Set in 1905 in a Jewish shtetl in the town of Anatevka, on the outskirts of czarist Russia, Fiddler is centred around Tevye (played by Steven Skybell). He’s a poor dairyman with a wife and five daughters. Three of his daughters are of marrying age and the expectations are a matchmaker will find them a husband.
But, despite tradition, the strong-willed girls have their own idea of who they want to marry – and it’s all for love. Their marital choices give Tevye plenty of tsouris (aggravation). Eldest daughter Tsatyl (Rachel Zatcoff) marries a poor tailor in need of a sewing machine. Second daughter Hodl (Stephanie Lynne Mason) falls in love with a penniless Bolshevik revolutionary who winds up in Siberia. And though Tevye convinces his wife, Golde (Jennifer Babiak), that it’s OK to break from the matchmaker tradition, it is too much even for him when his third daughter, Khave (Rosie Jo Neddy), falls in love with a gentile – he banishes her from the family, declaring her dead.
Meanwhile, the political climate is very antisemitic. There are pogroms, and the czar is expelling Jews from the villages. At the end of the musical, the Jews of Anatevka are notified that they have three days to leave the village or they will be forced out by the government.
The original Broadway production opened in 1964 and, in 1965, won nine Tony Awards including best musical, best score, book, direction and choreography. Zero Mostel was the original Tevye. The music was by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein. The original New York stage production was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. In 1971, there was a critically acclaimed film adaptation that garnered three Academy Awards, including best music.
The Yiddish translation was originally performed in Israel in 1965. It was crafted by Shraga Friedman, an Israeli actor who was born in Warsaw, escaped the Nazis in 1941 and settled in Tel Aviv.
In the New York production, the set design, credited to Beowulf Boritt, is simple. The word Torah (in Hebrew) is painted across the main banner and is torn apart and sewn back together as a symbol of what the Jewish people have endured.
From the very start, the audience gets drawn in when the cast forms a circle and sings “Traditsye” (“Tradition”). Another familiar tune – “Shadkhnte Shadkhnte” (“Matchmaker Matchmaker”) has the audience moving in their seats. While most of the music and lyrics are basically the same, there are some changes. “If I Were a Rich Man” becomes “Ven Ikh Bin a Rothshild” (“If I Were a Rothschild”).
While most of the cast is Jewish, some are not, and very few of the actors actually knew Yiddish before the show. Jackie Hoffman, who brilliantly plays Yente the Matchmaker, grew up with some Yiddish in her home but was far from fluent in it.
“I didn’t learn the language for my role, I learned my lines,” admitted Hoffman, who grew up on Long Island, N.Y., in an Orthodox home and attended a yeshivah for nine years. “It was difficult, but when I’m hungry to learn a role, that helps a lot. We have great coaches who are relentless. I did hear Yiddish in the house growing up, my mom and grandmother conversed, and I’m now grateful for every word I’ve learned.”
Hoffman and the cast were taught the language phonetically. Many had seen Fiddler performed in English in various theatrical productions, as well as the film. “It feels bashert this is the first production of Fiddler that I have ever been in and it is clearly the most meaningful,” said Hoffman, who has been in dozens of television shows and films, including Birdman, Garden State and Legally Blonde 2. “It merges the Jewish part of my life with the career part,” she told the Independent.
It is hard to leave the theatre without thinking of the similarities between Tevye’s Anatevka and many parts of the world today, including the United States. Jewish traditions are often challenged and antisemitism is once again on the rise.
“I don’t think that antisemitism ever went away, but it is a very scary time now,” said Hoffman. “It is mind-blowing how current the piece feels in that way.”
At the end of each performance, it’s clear by the enthusiastic applause and the long standing ovations, that the audience feels they have experienced something great. “They seem blown away by it,” said Hoffman. “They are impressed that we’ve pulled off a three-hour musical in Yiddish and they’re staggered by how pure and emotional an experience it is.”
At Stage 42 on 422 West 42nd St. in Manhattan, Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish runs just under three hours with one intermission. For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit fiddlernyc.com.
Alice Burdick Schweiger is a New York City-based freelance writer who has written for many national magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman’s Day and The Grand Magazine. She specializes in writing about Broadway, entertainment, travel and health, and covers Broadway for the Jewish News. She is co-author of the 2004 book Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman, with Jennifer Berman and Laura Berman.
Sandra Bernhard performs at the Chutzpah! Festival Oct. 31. (photo by J. Graham)
The Chutzpah! Festival returns during a new late-fall time period – from Oct. 24 to Nov. 24 – with performances at the Rothstein Theatre, Vogue Theatre, Rickshaw Theatre and the WISE Hall. Here are some of this year’s offerings.
Opening night, Oct. 24: Multi-award-winning, London-based songwriter, broadcaster and musical storyteller Daniel Cainer performs the Canadian première of his internationally acclaimed Gefilte Fish and Chips. Based on personal stories of what it’s like to be Jewish – and British – then and now, it includes travelers’ tales, feuding tailors, a naughty rabbi, family fables, and foibles. All of the human condition is here, lovingly and intelligently depicted in a remarkable collection of stories in song.
Quick Sand, Oct. 31: Sandra Bernhard is always three steps ahead of the crowd. She has to be. She’s “quick sand.” In these fast-paced times, a lady can’t stop moving. You never know what you might encounter next in this fun house world we’re living in. So, performing with a three-piece band, Bernhard takes control, bringing a mélange of musings, music and whimsy – “never boring, j’adoring” is her motto, covering the waterfront of the outrageous, quotidian and glamorous.
The Trombonik Returns to New Chelm, Nov. 1: Taking inspiration from the traditional comic tales of Jewish folklore about Chelm, songwriter Geoff Berner and writer, performer and satirist T.J. Dawe, along with friends Toby Berner, Tallulah Winkelman and Jack Garten, present a klezmer musical set in Depression-era Saskatchewan.
A wandering con artist posing as a rabbi becomes entangled in the Prohibition-era whiskey trade. This production combines the social critique of Berner’s decades of activist songcraft with the comedic zaniness of Mel Brooks. Following this performance is a celebratory full-on drinking, dancing Klezmer Punk performance with Berner and his co-conspirators, along with special guest and renowned clarinetist Michael Winograd, to mark the release of Berner’s new CD, Grand Hotel Cosmopolis.
The Diary of Anne Frank LatinX, Nov. 6-9: Everyone knows the story of Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager hidden away while Nazis hunted down Jews during the Holocaust. One American-Jewish director, Stan Zimmerman, adds a modern-day twist to the production, which will see its Canadian première at Chutzpah! Zimmerman said, “When I learned there are over a dozen Safe Houses in the L.A. area hiding Latinx families from ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], it got me wondering – How do these families survive with so little money and needing to remain in the shadows? How do they not lose hope? What are their lives like on a day-to-day basis? Do they see the parallels to Anne’s story?”
DAI (enough), Nov. 12-13: Iris Bahr is an award-winning writer, actor, director, producer and host of the hit podcast X-RAE and she is bringing her critically acclaimed, award-winning solo show DAI (enough) to Vancouver.
AvevA, Nov. 14: Chutzpah! presents the West Coast première of Ethiopian-Israeli singer and songwriter Aveva Dese. A rising star in the Israeli music scene, AvevA’s music fuses traditional Ethiopian sounds and groove with her soul-pop songs; she sings powerfully in both English and Amharic about society, freedom and love. Opening for AvevA is B.C.-based Leila Neverland with Mountain Sound.
Closing night, Nov. 24: Celebrates a week-long inclusion project of sharing, exploring and creating through art. Internationally renowned disability and mental health advocate and stand-up comedian Pamela Schuller and Brooklyn-based professional dancers and choreographers Troy Ogilvie and Rebecca Margolick will perform stand-up and solo dance work, respectively, in a shared evening of dance and comedy. The show will also present Ogilvie and Margolick’s new movement dance work created, directed and performed with members and guests of the inclusion community of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.
In addition to these and many other shows, the Chutzpah! Festival will pay tribute to the JCCGV and celebrate the 25th anniversary of its long-standing and renowned musical theatre summer camp created by Perry Ehrlich – Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance!; present a Shticks & Giggles comedy night with local comedians Ivan Decker, John Cullen, Lisa Person, Yisrael Shurack and others; and host multiple workshops as well as creation residencies for artists in dance and theatre in urban and rural B.C. settings.
Jennifer Lines and Andrew McNee in The Taming of the Shrew. (photo by Tim Matheson)
Bard on the Beach celebrates its 30th season with an eclectic, nontraditional mix of three Shakespeare plays – a western Taming of the Shrew, a Bollywood All’s Well that Ends Well and Coriolanus, a political drama with gender reversal – and a stage version of the Oscar-winning movie Shakespeare in Love.
A Western-style Shrew
How do you present Shakespeare’s tale of a strong-willed woman brought to her knees by a tormenting husband in today’s #metoo world? Can you justify staging a misogynistic play in the 21st century? That was the dilemma facing director Lois Anderson, who played the female lead in 2012. Her solution? Take some liberties with the script – nip it here, tuck it there, add in some role and speech reversals, set it in the American Wild West of the 1870s. While purists may bemoan the surgery, there is a lot to like about this production.
In Shrew, Lucentio (Kamyar Pazandeh), the son of a wealthy merchant from Pisa, comes to Padua to study and is smitten by Bianca (Kate Besworth), the lovely younger daughter of Madam Baptista (Susinn McFarlen). He is resolved to marry her but the good Madam insists that her older daughter, Katherine (Jennifer Lines), must be married off first. Unfortunately, Kate has the reputation of being an über shrew and none of the local men sees her as wife material. Enter Petruchio (Andrew McNee), a down-on-his-luck Veronan who has come to Padua to “wife it wealthily” and sees Kate (and her dowry) as both a challenge and an answer to his prayers.
Their first meeting is a fiery battle of evenly matched wits and an insight into things to come as the “taming” journey begins from a spontaneous marriage proposal, through the outlandish wedding to the honeymoon in a canvas tent on the range. The scene with Petruchio’s men lounging around the campfire singing in harmony about tumbleweed is a harbinger of Kate’s metamorphosis from the shrew to the good wife.
Meanwhile, back in Padua, now that Kate has been married off, Bianca’s admirers are set to woo her. Lucentio and Hortensio (Jewish community member Anton Lipovetsky) disguise themselves as tutors to vie for her affections. Lucentio wins the battle of the swains, the couple elopes and Hortensio consoles himself by marrying a wealthy widow. Kate and Petruchio return to Padua to celebrate the nuptials and a wager is made among the three grooms as to which wife will be the most obedient and come when called. Although Kate is the one who appears to obsequiously respond, she makes her final exit with a bang.
Lines is stellar as Kate. We see her feisty side when she lassoes her sister Bianca and drags her around the room, when she throws a flowerpot out of a window onto a mocking crowd below and when she breaks a lute over Hortensio’s head – Lipovetsky plays the part with great comedic timing. We also see Kate’s more vulnerable side, as she sits alone contemplating her spinsterhood and what is, in essence, the bullying she endures from the townsfolk.
Petruchio’s character has been made into a kinder, gentler soul, more palatable to today’s sensibilities, but the nice guy doesn’t always mesh with the mean one Shakespeare wrote. That said, McNee is strong in his portrayal and you cannot help but like him. It helps that the chemistry between the two leads is palpable – their characters are outsiders who have finally found their soul mates and revel in the discovery.
The production values are high for Shrew. Mara Gottler has done a stellar job with the costumes, the colourful frocks worn by the women, the cowboy dusters and the urban togs of the localites. Cory Sincennes’ set is simple, with the opening scene of Padua City’s main street readying for a summer fête easily morphing into the Baptista sitting room or a saloon. Gerald King’s lighting design and Malcolm Dow’s western sound design, replete with sounds of galloping horses in a very funny pony express scene, complete the theme.
This Shrew is certainly worth seeing but it would have been better with the original script, acknowledging the culture of the Elizabethan period regarding the treatment of the “fairer” sex and opening the dialogue about how far women have come in the past 400 years and how much further there is to go. After all, you don’t take the antisemitism out of Merchant of Venice or the elder abuse out of King Lear – and you should not take the misogyny out of The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare’s works, warts and all, should be looked at through a 16th-century lens, not a modern one.
The Bard in India
All’s Well that Ends Well defies classification into one of Shakespeare’s genres – comedy or tragedy. Bard on the Beach plays it as the former and it pays off, with an audience-pleasing feast of colour, music, bhangra dancing and swordplay.
The setting is 1946 India in a country on the cusp of independence from British rule prior to the partition with Pakistan, which divided the country into Hindu and Muslim nations. The story revolves around Helena (Sarena Parmar), an upper-class Hindu physician’s daughter and ward of the aristocratic British Countess (Lucia Frangione), who falls in love with the Countess’s soldier son, Bertram (Edmund Stapelton). Bertram is dismissive of Helena, considering her beneath his station.
However, Helena is determined to have him. The Viceroy (Bernard Cuffling) is ailing and near death. Helena, remembering her now-deceased father’s various remedies, offers to treat the Viceroy in exchange for the right to marry any man of her choosing. But, while she gets her wish and Bertram is forced to marry her, he abandons her to go to battle. He leaves behind a letter stating that he will not live with Helena as her spouse until she retrieves a ring he is wearing and bears him a child.
In Delhi, Bertram meets virginal but coquettish Diana (Pam Patel) and seduces her (so he thinks) but Helena has previously met with her and made plans to trade places with Diana in the bed chamber. This deception allows her to meet Bertram’s conditions and finally convince him that she is worthy of him – although why she would want such a cad is beyond comprehension.
Helena’s journey of self-discovery is symbolized by her sartorial choices, as she changes from Western garb to a traditional sari by the end of the play, paralleling the Indian journey from colonization and British rule to independence.
It is nice to see the diversity of cast in this production and the use of Hindi dialogue, particularly by Diana’s mother, the widow (Veenesh Dubois). Parmar is lovely as Helena, Cuffling a grouchy but avuncular Viceroy. David Marr as Lafeu, the minister, is hilarious and Jeff Gladstone as Parolles, one of Bertram’s military mates, steals the show with his slapstick antics. Newcomer Patel as Diana is a breath of fresh air. The ensemble dancers under the direction of choreographer Poonam Sandhu and the two Gurkha guards, Munish Sharma and Nadeem Phillip, bring authenticity to the onstage movement.
This show is all about the visuals – the set, the costumes, the dancing and the lighting. Kudos to costume designer Carmen Alatorre for her stylish choices and to set designer Pam Johnson for the stunning terracotta arched set, which transitions from a palatial Delhi home to a Punjabi marketplace brimming with colour and activity. Co- directors Rohit Chokhani and Johnna Wright, with their talented cast and crew, have created a gem. This fusion of East meets West is a winner.
Fall for Shakespeare
As director Daryl Clonan – who helmed last year’s hit, As You Like It, Beatlemania-style – said to the opening night crowd of Shakespeare in Love, this play is a love letter to the theatre. Not only that but it is great fun. The costumes, the acting, the set, the ambience, all do honour to its namesake 1998 film starring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow. The movie took the cinematic world by storm, winning seven Oscars, including best picture, and this summer’s stage version is set to wow Vancouver audiences.
The story is set in period, the early 1600s. The Bard (dashing Charlie Gallant) is suffering from writer’s block as he works on a new play, Romeo and Ethel and the Pirate’s Daughter. His inspiration ultimately arrives in the form of muse Viola De Lesseps (Ghazal Azarbad), the daughter of a wealthy merchant, who dreams of acting on stage. However, as women were not allowed thespian careers at that time, she has to disguise herself as Thomas Kent in order to audition for Shakespeare’s new play. As Kent, she gets the part of Romeo.
Meanwhile, Shakespeare meets Viola and falls for her – and she for him, although she has been promised to Lord Wessex, a nasty fortune-hunting aristocrat who plans to whisk her away to his family’s Virginia tobacco plantations.
This show has something in it for animal lovers (the dog Spot is a scene stealer), movie buffs and, of course, Shakespeare mavens, who will delight in identifying the various lines from the Bard’s repertoire, the play-within-a-play, mistaken identities, swordplay, a balcony scene, an in flagrante delicto moment and more.
The ensemble cast is terrific and Gallant and Azarbad are sublime in their portrayals of the two lovers, who enjoy some steamy moments behind the bed curtains. Jennifer Lines has a small but memorable role as a regal and stately Queen Elizabeth I. Mention must also be made of newcomer Jason Sakaki, who plays Sam, the young boy who plays Juliet until opening night, when his voice changes, giving Viola a chance to tread the boards without hiding her gender. Kit Marlowe (Austin Eckert), one of Shakespeare’s competitors, has been given an enhanced role in this rendering and he helps Shakespeare muddle his way through Sonnet #18: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day….”
Four Jewish community members are involved in this production. Warren Kimmel – last seen at Bard as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice – plays Fennyman, a local impressario who takes a share in one of Shakespeare’s plays and, while it is a small role, Kimmel plays it to the comedic max. Anton Lipovetsky makes the unctuous groom Lord Wessex utterly repellent, Mishelle Cuttler provides a potpourri of baroque melodies as sound designer and musical director, and Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s work as movement coach adds energy and playfulness, as it does in The Taming of the Shrew.
Set and costume designer Cory Sincennes once again keeps the set simple, a stark sepia-coloured Globe Theatre, but goes all out on a colourful feast of costumes.
This will likely be the hit of the season.
Three of the four Bard productions are up and running; Corialanus opens Aug. 21. For the schedule and tickets visit bardonthebeach.org or call 604-739-0559.
Tova Kornfeldis a Vancouver freelance writer and lawyer.
Warren Kimmel won a Jessie Award for his portrayal of the title character in the Snapshots Collective’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. (photo from Snapshots Collective)
The 37th annual Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards were held on July 15 at Bard on the Beach’s BMO Mainstage in Vanier Park. Fifty theatrical productions were nominated from last year’s theatre season.
In the small theatre category, the Snapshots Collective’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which included several Jewish community members in its creative team, garnered eight nominations: director Chris Adams and costume designer Emily Fraser were acknowledged, along with the outstanding performances by Jewish community member Warren Kimmel, Colleen Winton, Oliver Castillo and Jonathan Winsby, and the production as a whole for its quality and innovation. In the end, the show won four Jessies, for the performances of Kimmel, Winton and Castillo, as well as nabbing the award for outstanding musical production.
Jewish community member Itai Erdal won the award for outstanding lighting design category for his work in Arts Club Theatre Company’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Erdal was also nominated for his lighting in Théâtre la Seizième’s Le Soulier.
At the July 15 ceremony, community member David Diamond received the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance Career Achievement Award.
On June 27, 2019, Governor General of Canada Julie Payette announced this year’s appointments to the Order of Canada, including, as officers, two local Jewish community members: Gordon Diamond, for “his steadfast leadership in business and for his philanthropic support for causes related to health care, education and social services,” and Dr. Peter Suedfeld, for “his groundbreaking research on the psychological impacts of extreme environments and stressors on human behaviour.”
* * *
On June 18, 2019, at Government House in Victoria, B.C., the Janusz Korczak Medal was awarded to Ted Hughes, OC, and Helen Hughes, OC, while the Janusz Korczak Statuette was awarded to Irwin Elman, the past advocate for children and youth of Ontario. The awards were bestowed in recognition of caring for children in the spirit of Dr. Janusz Korczak.
The ceremony started with welcoming remarks by the event’s host, Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin, and Holocaust survivor and writer Lillian Boraks-Nemetz spoke about Korczak, with a personal touch. The awards were presented jointly by Jennifer Charlesworth, B.C. representative for children and youth, and Jerry Nussbaum, president of the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada. And the event was emceed by Jerymy Brownridge, private secretary to the lieutenant governor and executive director of Government House.
* * *
The Jewish Independent won two American Jewish Press Association Simon Rockower Awards for excellence in Jewish journalism this year (for work published in 2018). The awards were presented at the 38th annual AJPA banquet, held in conjunction with the association’s annual conference in St. Louis, Mo., June 23-26.
Bruce Brown’s “The draft: a dad reflects” – in which he shares his experience of sending his son off to serve in the Israeli Air Force – placed first in the personal essay category for its circulation class.
The JI’s editorial board – Pat Johnson, Basya Laye and Cynthia Ramsay – took second place in the editorial writing category for its circulation group. The submission, which included the editorials “Holocaust education needed,” “Impacts of nation-state” and “What is anti-Zionism?” elicited the following comment from the Rockower judges: “Riveting and well-explained editorials on anti-Zionism, the identity of Israel as a nation-state, and a local controversy involving Holocaust education.”
* * *
At Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s annual general meeting on June 18 at King David High School, Federation elected two new directors – Karen Levitt and Melanie Samuels – and the board appointed a new executive. While Karen James has completed her term as board chair, she remains on the board as immediate past chair. Alex Cristall takes over as chair, Penny Gurstein is vice-chair, Bruce Cohen is secretary and Jim Crooks is treasurer.
At the AGM, several honours were bestowed: Stephen Gaerber was the recipient of the Arthur Fouks Award, Megan Laskin the Elaine Charkow Award and Sam Heller the Young Leadership Award. Tribute was also paid to James; as well as Jason Murray, outgoing chair of CIJA’s local partnership council; Richard Fruchter, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Services; Rabbi Noam Abramchik and Rabbi Aaron Kamin, rosh yeshivah of Pacific Torah Institute; and Cathy Lowenstein, head of school at Vancouver Talmud Torah. Ambassador Nimrod Barkan attended the AGM as part of his last visit to Vancouver before he completes his term as Israel’s ambassador to Canada.
Federation thanks the directors who came off the board – Eric Bulmash, Bryan Hack, Rozanne Kipnes and Laskin – for their dedication to community and that they chose to share their time and talents with Federation. In Bulmash’s case, he will continue to contribute, but in a different capacity, as he is Federation’s new vice-president, operations.
* * *
At its annual general meeting on June 19, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre announced the two winners of the Kron Sigal Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education. The VHEC also inducted two new recipients of the Life Fellows designation.
The designation of Life Fellow recognizes outstanding dedication and engagement with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre Society through long-term involvement and significant contributions to the organization’s programs and mandate. This year, VHEC is delighted to have two recipients, Wendy and Ron Stuart, in recognition of their longstanding contributions as artistic directors of the VHEC’s community-wide Yom Hashoah commemoration.
Each year, the VHEC presents the Meyer and Gita Kron and Ruth Kron Sigal Award to a B.C. elementary or secondary teacher who has shown a remarkable commitment to teaching students about the Holocaust and its important lessons. This year’s recipients are Nicola Colhoun and Dr. Christine Paget from West Vancouver Secondary School.
In their remarks, Colhoun and Paget shared, “As social studies teachers … we are tasked with the lofty goal of having students care about what has come before them to shape the world they live in now…. Through the testimonies of survivors, the past becomes tangible, it becomes human, and it becomes relevant to students…. So many of our students come away from the Holocaust Symposium saying things like, ‘I get it now.’ ‘I didn’t realize, but now I understand.’ They understand why the history of the Holocaust matters. And they also understand why they need to speak up for inclusion, and stand against racism and persecution of any kind, from the school hallways to the hallways of power.”
The VHEC’s executive is Philip Levinson, president; Corinne Zimmerman, vice-president; Marcus Brandt, second vice-president; Joshua Sorin, treasurer; Al Szajman, secretary; and Ed Lewin, past president.
Michael Scholar Jr. co-directs the political comedy Born Yesterday, which opens July 13 at the Jericho Arts Centre. (photo from ETC)
Garson Kanin’s comedy Born Yesterday opened on Broadway on Feb. 4, 1946, and was a hit. It has been made into a film (1950), returned to Broadway twice (1989 and 2011) and seen countless productions. About political corruption, it has a timeless quality.
“This play seems to have been written for this exact moment, when populism, corruption and bullying are an omnipresent part of our political and personal lives,” co-director Michael Scholar Jr. told the Independent.
Scholar co-directs the Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) production with Shelby Bushell. Part of the company’s Annual Summer Repertory Festival, Born Yesterday opens July 13 at the Jericho Arts Centre.
“Kanin wrote the piece while in Europe,” said Scholar. “While he was serving in the army to defeat fascism abroad, he seemed more concerned about those same tendencies within our own democracy back home. This play and one of its central figures, Harry Brock, the bullying millionaire who tries to buy his way into power, are sadly all too familiar 80 years on.”
In Born Yesterday, junkman Harry has come to Washington, D.C., to use his money to influence legislation. Despite his own uncouthness, Harry is concerned that his girlfriend, Billie, a former showgirl, will make him look bad, so he hires a reporter, Paul, to educate her. As her newly released intelligence begins to surface, she could prove Harry’s undoing.
The Independent last spoke with Jewish community member Scholar about The Enemy, another political play, which was at the Firehall Arts Centre late last year.
“Since The Enemy, a lot has changed for me,” he said. “I spent a semester teaching acting and directing at Arizona State University in Phoenix. And now, on my summer break, I’m co-directing Born Yesterday for ETC and, a day after opening, I fly to New York to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Colonial Theatre of Rhode Island, which I get to work on with my 6-year-old daughter, Alice.”
About how he came to co-direct Born Yesterday, Scholar said, “I was talking with artistic director Tariq Leslie while on a movie set here in Vancouver, and we got to talking about how ETC was hitting above its weight class and doing some powerful work in town. He had seen my production of As You Like It at Studio 58 and enjoyed my work. And so a match was made.”
Scholar described having a co-director as “a real blessing.”
“It means that we can tag team on rehearsals, and I actually get to have a day with my family each week,” he said of working with Bushell. “Also, having her perspective in the room has meant that we are covering more ground and that, together, we have fewer blind spots. This play is about a woman who is perceived to be a ditz, but whose sense of civic duty is awoken through education and intellectual stimulation. This play, written in the ’40s by Garson Kanin, is surprisingly relevant to our current political climate, but it also has some potentially problematic elements [so it is] worth having two sets of eyes looking at this material.”
One of those elements is the depiction of women.
“Brock is a bully and, without giving away too much of the plot, he is a violent character towards both men and women in his entourage,” explained Scholar. “The play deals with toxic masculinity, misogyny and stereotypes, but, in its time, it was working to subvert those ideas. So, we’ve reworked parts of the piece to highlight this intention and to not reinforce gender stereotypes, which has been another great reason to have Shelby as a collaborator on this project.”
Ensemble Theatre’s website highlights a quote from the play: “A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.” It notes, “By turns uproarious and sobering, and packed with a cast of vibrant characters throughout, Kanin’s play reminds us that a healthy democracy depends on its inhabitants to stay healthy, and that abuse of power cannot be stemmed without an informed and engaged citizenry.”
Scholar stressed that, despite the weighty issues tackled, the play is primarily a comedy. “It has a fast-pace banter and physical precision that is almost farcical,” he said. “It uses comedy as a way of dealing with challenging ideas, disarming us with laughter so that we can reflect on our situation with not just our heads, but our hearts, too. I’m sure audiences will have much to discuss afterwards, but they will also be entertained while on this poignant journey.”
ETC’s summer festival runs to Aug. 16. In addition to Born Yesterday, it features Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy, which opened July 12, and Tracy Letts’s Superior Donuts, which opens July 19. For tickets, visit ensembletheatrecompany.ca.
Zayd Dohrn’s Reborning returns to the New York stage this summer. (photo from Zayd Dohrn)
The play Reborning, written by Zayd Dohrn, is being performed Off-Broadway at the Soho Playhouse in New York City from July 5 through Aug. 3, thanks to Vancouver’s Reality Curve Theatre.
A Canadian nonprofit professional theatre company founded in 2011, Reality Curve reached out to Dohrn to bring this play, which ran in Vancouver last year, to the New York stage. The production is produced by artistic director Paul Piaskowski, Darren Lee Cole and Rebecca McNeil, and is presented by Playbook Hub with support from the Vancouver Film School, the Canada Council for the Arts and Shimon Photo.
Reborning is a dark comedy-drama with elements of horror. In it, people are able to buy life-like infant dolls that look like loved ones who have died. The play centres around Kelly, a woman who lives with her boyfriend in Queens, N.Y., and creates “reborn” baby dolls. She has a client who commissions her to make a replica of her dead baby girl and, as Kelly constructs this doll, it stirs up memories from her own life.
“It’s a relationship between a younger and older woman – a customer and an artist – who are both looking for something and it becomes dangerous,” said Dohrn, who lives in Chicago and is an associate professor at Northwestern University. “There is a whole subculture with these dolls. I wrote the play right after the birth of our first child. My wife was shopping online for baby toys and clothes and she found these life-like dolls. The photos of them are incredible, realistic, detailed and medically accurate. Some even have hospital bracelets. There is something beautiful about them, yet very disturbing.”
Dohrn talked to customers and heard their testimonials. “Many of these people can’t get over the loss of their baby and use the dolls therapeutically.”
The play stars Emily Bett Rickards (CW’s Arrow), Piaskowski (Unspeakable, The Twilight Zone) and Lori Triolo (Riverdale), who is also the director.
The first production of Reborning, which starred Ally Sheedy, was 10 years ago at the Summer Play Festival at the Public Theatre in New York City, when Dohrn was at the Julliard School. It has had more than 20 productions nationally and internationally over the last decade, including in Los Angeles, Brazil, Panama, Florida, San Francisco and, in 2018, Vancouver, where he connected to Reality Curve.
Dohrn’s life and road to literary success could be a fascinating play in itself. His parents, Bill Ayres and Bernadine Dohrn, were leaders in the radical group the Weather Underground (also known as the Weathermen) back in the 1960s and 1970s. There was an accidental explosion in a Greenwich Village townhouse where Weathermen lost their lives, and the couple went underground, using assumed names. Dohrn, who is now 41, spent his early childhood on the run.
“It didn’t seem strange to me to grow up being fugitives, that was just our life,” he said. “We lived in New York City in Harlem, traveled a lot, moved around a lot and lived in communes. Then my parents turned themselves in and we settled in New York. My mom went to jail for almost two years when I was 5, and I have vivid memories of visiting her there. My dad took care of me while she was gone.”
When his mom was released from prison, she became a lawyer. “My dad became a professor and I was raised in a middle-class house, although they still had their notoriety and they were committed to their politics and their cause,” said Dohrn. “Growing up, we would go to a lot of demonstrations and meetings with other activists.”
Dohrn went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Brown University, a master’s in fine arts from New York University, a master of arts from Boston University and a playwriting fellowship from Julliard. He also spent a lot of time in China. Fourteen years ago, he married Rachel DeWoskin, and they have two daughters. DeWoskin, who is from Ann Arbor, Mich., is an author, teaches at the University of Chicago and also spent many years living in China before she and Dohrn met.
Many of Dohrn’s plays draw from his childhood and life experiences. In one of his earlier plays, Haymarket, set in 1886, a bomb explodes in the middle of a peaceful rally of demonstrators in Chicago – at least one of the radicals goes into hiding. His play Sick, about a Manhattan couple who go to extreme measures to protect themselves from pollution, was reminiscent of living in Beijing and witnessing the fear during the SARS epidemic.
When asked about his religion, Dohrn said he considers himself a cultural Jew. “My mom was half-Jewish and my parents were atheists, but, culturally, my mom considers herself Jewish and we were raised as cultural Jews and celebrated Passover and Chanukah,” he explained. “We celebrated in a radical way – we did Passovers in a women’s prison in upstate New York, celebrating the Exodus as a story of freedom and celebrating with female inmates in prison.”
Dohrn noted that he, his wife and kids have traveled a lot, visiting Jewish sites. “My wife considers herself Jewish and we are raising our girls with a lot of Jewish cultural influences,” he said.
Dohrn and DeWoskin spend time each year in China. “Rachel kept her apartment in Beijing for at least 10 years and we would go for a few months every year,” he said. “When our kids started to grow up, we wanted a place where they could be more independent so we got an apartment in Shanghai. We spend three-quarters of the year in Chicago and one-quarter of the year in Shanghai. We both have academic schedules so we are able to spend the summers and winters there. There are still historical monuments and artifacts from the Jewish community in Shanghai and the synagogue is now a museum. Our apartment there is in the building that was the Jewish processing centre for the refugees during World War II.”
Currently, Dohrn is developing a series about radical political movements like the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers for Showtime and a feature film for Netflix. He’s looking forward to Reborning being back on the New York stage. “For me,” he said, “it’s a bookend, to have it back in New York again after all these years.”
Alice Burdick Schweigeris a New York City-based freelance writer who has written for many national magazines, including Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Woman’s Day and The Grand Magazine. She specializes in writing about Broadway, entertainment, travel and health, and covers Broadway for the Jewish News. She is co-author of the 2004 book Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman, with Jennifer Berman and Laura Berman.
Did you know without goats, the coffee bean may have never been discovered? Are you able to recognize if the vinyl you hear coming from your neighbor’s apartment is a 78, 45 or 33? Do you type your university essays out on a typewriter? Barry knows, Barry can, Barry does, Barry will and Barry did. Introducing the next wave in AI customer service. Barry is the perfect fit for all your too-cool-for-school business needs.
In Jewish community member Ira Cooper’s Artisanal Intelligence, fellow community member Hannah Everett plays Jane, the entrepreneur and creative genius responsible for developing Barry, a fast-learning, curious and fashion-wise artificial intelligence customer service robot, played by Drew Carlson. Cooper describes his play as “not simply a form of absurdist, comedic, low-brow escapism as it may come across. It’s a conversation about identity, as most things are, and its tumultuous relationship with self versus societal box-fitting…. There are other dialogues, too; questions raised about creation versus intent versus audience response and who gets to create meaning. It’s also an affirmation of what love can be.” Artisanal Intelligence is at Havana Theatre July 5 and 7, 9:30 p.m. Tickets ($15) can be purchased at showpass.com.
The cast of Arts Umbrella’s production of James and the Giant Peach includes Teilani Rasmussen (as Ladahlord), left, and Sophie Mercier (as James). (photo by Tim Matheson)
“Well, maybe it started that way. As a dream, but doesn’t everything. Those buildings. These lights. This whole city. Somebody had to dream about it first. And maybe that is what I did. I dreamed about coming here, but then I did it.”
Roald Dahl (1916-1990) wrote some of the most-known children’s books, including The Gremlins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Matilda and, published in 1961, James and the Giant Peach, from which the above quote comes. Still as relevant as ever, and adapted into a musical about a decade ago, James and the Giant Peach is “wildly entertaining,” director Erika Babins told the Jewish Independent in an interview about Arts Umbrella’s Expressions Theatre Festival, May 17–25. “The music is written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote the music for La La Land, The Greatest Showman and Dear Evan Hansen, to name a few. I find I always have at least one of their catchy songs stuck in my head. There’s also puppets!” she said.
James and the Giant Peach is one of four productions featured in the festival. The others are Peter Pan (by J.M. Barrie), Animal Farm (adapted by Nelson Bond from the novel by George Orwell) and Into the Woods (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine).
“Choosing the Expressions Theatre Festival shows is an involved process that starts at least a year in advance. We’re already choosing shows for our 2020 festival,” said Babins, who is a member of the Jewish community. “Each troupe director is responsible for choosing the show their troupe will perform.
“As directors, we keep in mind the strengths and areas of growth we see within our cast,” she said. “We want to ensure that the skills students develop throughout the year build upon or differ from those we explored in past years. For shows, we want to choose something that can challenge and engage our students throughout the rehearsal process. At the same time, we want to select shows that will appeal to our audience, which includes a large number of students who attend school matinées that run along with our public performances.”
The Arts Umbrella promotional material summarizes the plot of James and the Giant Peach: “When James is sent by his conniving aunts to chop down their old fruit tree, he discovers a magic potion that results in the growth of a tremendous peach … and launches a journey of enormous proportions. Suddenly, James finds himself in the centre of the gigantic peach, among human-sized insects with equally oversized personalities. After the peach falls from the tree and rolls into the ocean, the group faces hunger, sharks and plenty of disagreements. Thanks to James’ quick wit and creative thinking, the residents learn to live and work together as a family.”
“I chose James and the Giant Peach for myriad reasons,” Babins said. “Last year, the Junior Musical Theatre Troupe performed Guys and Dolls, a classic musical with a lot of realism. James and the Giant Peach is pretty much the opposite of that: it’s a contemporary show written with lots of theatricality and wonder. I also find the themes in the show particularly universal for the age range of 13-to-16-year-olds who perform in the show. In the musical, the theme of chosen family comes up a lot – the idea that you have the right to surround yourself with people who make you feel safe and happy, and that you’re allowed to distance yourself from those who make you feel bad or hurt you.”
Babins has been working at Arts Umbrella as the choreographer for the Senior Musical Theatre Troupe since 2012, and she began teaching in the general and yearlong theatre programs in 2014. “We started the Junior Musical Theatre Troupe just two years ago and the original director is taking a leave of absence, so I was asked to helm this production,” she said. “I was more than happy to take on the role.”
Playing the role of James in the Arts Umbrella production is 15-year-old Sophie Mercier. “She brings both a maturity and an emotional vulnerability to the role, which James needs to have in order for the audience to care about his journey,” said Babins.
When asked about the most fun aspect of this production, Babins said it was “playing into all the theatrical moments.”
“The show is a play within a play, with the narrator introducing us to all the characters and themes at the beginning of the show. We have a lot of fun breaking the fourth wall and bringing the audience in on the magic of theatre,” she explained.
As for the most challenging part, she pointed to the set changes. “We have some big and elaborate set pieces,” she said, “and I often ran out of hands to move them around the stage. But I think we have found some clever solutions to those challenges.”
The Expressions Theatre Festival opens and closes with Into the Woods (May 17 and May 25, 7 p.m.), which runs a few times during the festival. James and the Giant Peach will be performed twice: May 19, 4 p.m., and May 23, 7 p.m. For more information about the festival and the full performance schedule, visit artsumbrella.com/expressionstheatre. Tickets start at $12 and the shows take place at Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island.