Left to right, Patrick Bahrich, Sjahari Hollands and Christine Iannetta co-star, along with Rob Monk, in United Players’ production of The Price by Arthur Miller, which is at Jericho Arts Centre until Dec. 1. (photo by Nancy Caldwell)
United Players of Vancouver theatre company has a reputation for tackling challenging, thought-provoking material and, with its current production, The Price, by Arthur Miller, it lives up to that reputation.
Playing at Jericho Arts Centre until Dec. 1, The Price is a densely packed play, covering several themes: sibling rivalry, self-perception, filial and spousal duty, memory, modernity, the Depression, materialism, success, failure, and more. In a play where dialogue is the main action, actors Patrick Bahrich, Sjahari Hollands, Christine Iannetta and Rob Monk do an adept job at keeping the audience engaged.
First to enter the scene – a room full of heavy, dated furniture, piled high and seemingly haphazardly – is Victor Franz (Bahrich), a New York City policeman. He slowly and almost lovingly uncovers some of the many items and puts a record on a Victrola – a laugh track of sorts, apparently a popular type of recording, once upon a time.
Victor’s wife Esther (Iannetta) arrives, amid the laughter, which contrasts to the obvious tension between the two. Victor immediately accuses her of being drunk, and she defensively replies, “I had one!”
The furniture belonged to Victor’s family and is being stored on the upper floor of the building in which they lived. His brother Walter (Monk) is supposed to be coming to help him sell it to an appraiser (Hollands), as the building is soon to be demolished.
The Franzes’ marriage could be summarized by the phrase “unfulfilled expectations.” Director Adam Henderson – who is a member of the Jewish community – has chosen to stage the play as a period piece, so that viewers will ponder how the roles of men and women have changed, and how societal norms have evolved (or not), since 1968, when The Price premièred on Broadway. Miller’s opening direction is, “Today. New York.” However, the today of 2019 is very different from that of 50 years ago, as is evident on several occasions, especially in how the men talk to and about Esther, and how her character is written overall.
Eventually, the appraiser stomps and puffs his way up the stairs to home-cum-storage unit. Eighty-nine-year-old Gregory Solomon was expecting there to be only a few pieces to consider and is overwhelmed by the volume of furniture. He also ends up entangled in the volume of resentment and distrust between the brothers, who haven’t spoken to each other for ages. Walter shows up at the end of Act 1, just as Solomon is paying Victor the agreed-upon price for the lot, $1,100, one $100 bill at a time.
Sweeping in, expensively dressed and broadcasting on more than one level his success and confidence, Walter is the brother who managed to escape their controling father and follow his dreams, while self-effacing Victor dropped out of college to take care of their father, who lost almost everything in the Stock Market Crash of 1929. But, as the conversation and argument proceed, it becomes apparent that neither characterization is accurate. Nor is there a clear verdict on what really happened all those years ago, as they are unable to reconcile their recollections of the past or their beliefs about each other and themselves.
Solomon – who has his own regrets in life – tells Victor, “… the price of used furniture is nothing but a viewpoint and, if you wouldn’t understand the viewpoint, it’s impossible to understand the price.”
We do not understand everything we do in life, let alone everything that other people do. The price that we – and others – pay for our choices is as obscure. And time doesn’t allow us to go back and change things; time is an ever-present weight in The Price.
There is no happy ending here, despite the humour that runs throughout, and the fact that the play both starts and ends with the laughter record. Once the Franzes have all left, the deal done, Solomon puts on the record. He flops into one of the big armchairs and laughs and laughs.
The Price will leave you with much to think and talk about. For tickets, visit unitedplayers.com or purchase them at the door.
Ilana Zackon and Ariel Martz-Oberlander played current-day partisans in the immersive theatre piece Time Machine. (photo from Radix Theatre)
Two Jewish theatre artist-creators, Ariel Martz-Oberlander and Ilana Zackon, teamed up this summer to create an immersive piece based on the Jewish partisan movement, as part of Radix Theatre’s futuristic play Time Machine, set on a boat, the Pride of Vancouver.
The show took place on the yacht over a five-hour journey up Indian Arm (traditionally known as səl̓ilw̓ət) and featured both local emerging and established artists presenting new work of various genres, such as theatre, spoken word poetry, sound installation and more. The artists were asked to create a piece inspired by what Vancouver will look like in the year 2050. Some darker, others playful, the works were all grounded in a strong sense of the artists’ identities.
Martz-Oberlander and Zackon wanted to bring their ancestral roots into their piece. The pair created an immersive show in which they played two rebels helping smuggle climate refugees to safety. The 10-minute piece, which ran on a loop for an hour-and-a-half of the boat ride, took place in the boat’s basement bathroom, which acted as a safehouse. Five to seven audience members at a time were summoned by Zackon, dressed as a soldier, down into the dimly lit bathroom, where they were greeted by a similarly dressed Martz-Oberlander; “Zog Nit Keynmol” (“The Partisan Song”) played in the background.
The invited audience soon discovers they are now refugees who have just escaped fires in California. The soldiers, members of a new wave of partisans called PAP, explain that the refugees are being brought to another safehouse and prepared to enter the new world. The soldiers explain that their resistance cohort has based their movement on the survival lessons of their ancestors, partisan fighters in the forests of occupied Europe. The audience members are given new names, briefed on the types of skills, such as hunting moose, that they will need to survive in their new lives and, eventually, led into a discussion on identity.
“What’s better: start over or remember where you’re coming from?” Martz-Oberlander’s character asks. The two soldiers bicker over their differing views and invite the audience to contribute. After the group has spoken, the soldiers receive word that it is safe to move the refugees. Before leaving, audience members are given the option of writing down “one thing about their identity they don’t want to lose in the new world” on a sticky note. The notes lined the stairwell and, as the loop continued, more and more words were added, creating a tapestry of human identity. The notes lined the bathroom walls for the remainder of the boat ride, and included such items as “curiosity and kindness,” “time to think,” “my favourite berry picking spot,” “my knowledge of languages” and “the giggles of my daughter,” among many others.
A number of the boat passengers who attended the piece were Jewish and shared how they connected with their ancestors through remembering their stories. Many non-Jews had never heard of the partisan movement and the two artists felt the work they did helped educate people on an important part of history.
Zackon and Martz-Oberlander also received, from the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, transcripts of interviews with Jewish refugees coming to Canada during the 1930s and 1940s. These testimonials were hidden around the safehouse and incorporated into the performance. The two artists hope to receive the opportunity to continue developing and expanding this work and to incorporate more of their own personal family stories about immigration to Canada.
Laura Reynolds and David Volpov in The Wars, which opens Nov. 7. (photo by Javier R. Sotres)
Timothy Findley’s award-winning novel The Wars, adapted by Dennis Garnhum for the stage, comes to University of British Columbia’s Frederic Wood Theatre Nov. 7-23. Directed by Lois Anderson, it will be performed by UBC Theatre and Film’s graduate class of 2020, among whom is Jewish community member David Volpov.
Volpov takes on the leading role of Robert Ross, who is described as “a tender-hearted idealist who shares a strong bond with his wheelchair-bound sister” and “trades his comfortable Canadian life for the harsh world of trench warfare in World War I.”
“What I find challenging about playing Robert is imagining the play as a series of events, with each event slowly transforming him into a new person,” Volpov told the Independent. “At first, he’s a shy city boy who comes from a wealthy family. Over the course of the play, he becomes a confident lieutenant, who’s gained a lot more life experience. It’s not until he escapes his domestic life and goes to war that he truly discovers who he is. He discovers more about his sexuality, his morality around war and his will to live.
“As well as being a war story, the play is also a coming-of-age story. Finding those moments of change has been a rewarding experience because Robert is such a complicated character to crack. Even though he’s so young, he has so much trauma and weight that he carries with him to France. It feels like a big step for Robert every time he grows or learns something, or pushes past his comfort levels.”
Volpov is in his final year of the bachelor of fine arts acting program at UBC. As a writer, his plays include The Minimum-Wage Dame and Ten Years Later. His acting credits include Promethean Theatre Company’s productions of Of Mice and Men and Saint Joan.
“I love working with Promethean because we’re a small group of friends who are passionate about theatre,” he said. “We come together and discuss what stories we want to tell, what stories we think are important to tell. Then we go ahead and tell them. There’s nothing high-brow about it.”
Volpov’s appreciation for storytelling comes in part from his parents.
“My parents were Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union – my mom from Latvia and my dad from Belarus. Having grown up persecuted for being Jewish, they found it important to pass on their life stories to me, and that I understood what it meant to be Jewish,” he explained.
Growing up in Richmond as a secular Jew, he said, “It wasn’t until I was a teenager and spent one summer at Camp Tel Yehudah in Upstate New York that I felt connected to my heritage. The camp was oriented on teen leadership, so each camper chose a global issue which they were passionate about, researched it and created an activism action plan.
“The issue I chose to dive into was gun safety,” he said. “My group and I created a policy plan that we got the chance to take to Washington, D.C. We met with senators’ aides and representatives of the NRA [National Rifle Association] and the Brady Campaign. It was very important to be able to speak with people on both sides of the issue and still be able to have a healthy discussion. The experience impacted me a lot because it was the first time that I felt like I had a voice about something I was passionate about, something that felt so personal to me. That’s one thing that really helped in my acting from then on. Before that, I knew how to read and play someone else’s script, but that was when I learned how to make someone else’s text feel like it was my own.”
Considering the text of The Wars, Volpov said that one of the reasons Findley wrote about the First World War “is because that was the war that changed everything. It marked the first use of chemical weapons in war and the first time that the senselessness of war was widely reported. World War I marked a point where the world shifted to a much more cynical outlook, where the chaos of the world was realized.
“Presently,” he said, “we’re living in a similarly cynical time, in a new age of increasing isolationism – of Brexit and [Donald] Trump, and the climate crisis, too. The message that the play applies to the First World War can also apply to today: even when we’ve lowered our faith in our leaders and in humanity, we can always hold onto hope and lean on meaningful connections to others to get by.”
He added that “these connections take precedence over mere survival. The play is so life-affirming because it’s all about finding hope and joy even during the hardest times.”
Tamara Micner performs her one-woman play Holocaust Brunch this weekend at Chutzpah! (photo by Sophie le Roux)
“In recent years,” playwright Tamara Micner told the Independent, “I feel there’s been increasing discussion about inherited trauma in indigenous communities and in other minority communities, such as Japanese- and Chinese-Canadian communities. For me, it’s been valuable to remember that, sadly, we as Jews are not alone in inheriting collective trauma. In fact, I also know white, Christian Canadians who have it, too. The tsures we carry is unique in some ways, but we’re definitely in good company.”
Micner, who now lives in London, England, will be returning home to Vancouver for a couple of weeks to perform her new one-woman show, Holocaust Brunch, at the Chutzpah! Festival. It is one of two theatre works that will see their Canadian première at this year’s festival; the other is The Diary of Anne Frank LatinX, directed by Stan Zimmerman, who is based in Los Angeles.
While The Diary of Anne Frank was mounted by Fighting Chance Productions last year (jewishindependent.ca/glimpse-of-life-in-the-annex), Zimmerman’s production features only Latinx actors. This is what makes this version of the play – written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett Based and adapted by Wendy Kesselman – unique.
“I chose to use Latinx actors for the characters in the attic,” Zimmerman told the Independent, “after seeing a CNN report about a Jewish woman in L.A. who arranged to hide a Latina mom and her daughters after her husband was suddenly deported by ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement].
“Contrary to initial media reports – that went worldwide – we are not replacing the Nazis with ICE agents [in the play]. We are performing a word-for-word production of the script that Natalie Portman starred in on Broadway in 1997. I’m not saying the situation is exactly the same as the Second World War, but there are parallels – parallels that we can hopefully learn from. Only then can we live by Elie Wiesel’s famous phrase, ‘Never again.’”
Some Jewish community members were concerned about Zimmerman’s casting choice.
“Initially,” he said, “I had a few Jewish friends question my decision to cast Latinx actors in the play. For them, it was more about not wanting to tarnish the legacy of Anne Frank. But, when they saw that we were honouring her memory, they understood the power of this production. I took to heart the insightful words of a young Anne Frank from her diary – ‘Our lives are all different, and yet the same.’”
The concept of “different yet the same” is one of the reasons that Micner was interested in telling the stories of Bluma and Isaac Tischler, who have both passed away. Born in Poland, they “met in medical school in Tajikistan during the war, and went on to become renowned Vancouver doctors.”
“I have known the Tischler family since 1987, when their daughter Yael and I did What Do I Do When I’m Two? together at the JCC,” said Micner, referring to a program at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. “Our parents and grandparents have also known each other for many years.”
That said, Micner explored some of her gaps in understanding, through creating Holocaust Brunch.
“Growing up,” she said, “I felt there was a disconnect between ‘the Holocaust story’ I was taught, which focused on Western Europe and camps, and my own family’s story, which was about living in Eastern Europe (Poland) and surviving the war in the Soviet Union. The Tischlers’ story has those parallels as well, and it feels important to me to talk about a kind of Holocaust story that I haven’t seen told in wider culture, and that some non-Jews I know have never even heard.”
Micner is no stranger to writing plays based on people she knows.
“I have created shows in the past that are inspired by my own family,” she said. “Holocaust Brunch is partly about another family’s story, and started with the Tischlers offering me part of their family’s story to tell in a piece of theatre. I take that offer very seriously as an act of trust and a responsibility, as the creator and performer of the piece. We’ve had several conversations along the way about the central questions and themes of the piece as it has taken shape, and they have seen the show as it has evolved.”
One of the central aspects of the work is looking at trauma from a third-generation perspective.
“I am indeed part of the ‘third generation,’ and Holocaust Brunch explores what it’s like living as a descendant of Holocaust survivors, two generations removed from that history and trauma,” said Micner. “It’s certainly based on some of my experiences and, inevitably, incorporates aspects of other people’s experiences based on conversations I’ve been part of, books and articles I’ve read, and so on. There are many of us who are thinking and talking about these issues.”
In contrast, Zimmerman witnessed a lack of discussion and knowledge about the Holocaust and, specifically, The Diary of Anne Frank.
“I was quite shocked,” he said, “when the 15-year-old actor playing Anne told us that she did not know who Anne Frank was before auditioning for our production. As a Jew, I grew mad to learn that Anne’s diary is no longer required reading in the California school system. I decided then that it was vital to get as many student groups as possible to see this play, with this cast.”
And it hasn’t been only the cast and audiences who have learned something from the play.
“Although I was a good student at my temple’s Sunday school,” said Zimmerman, “being involved in this play opened my eyes to so many stories about the Holocaust that I never knew before. These important lessons were gained by visits to several museums and meeting many survivors and hearing their stories firsthand.”
He added, “As many of our survivors pass, it is important for us as artists to find creative ways to keep Anne’s story alive.”
One of the ways in which Micner creatively tells her story is with humour. Describing Holocaust Brunch as a “dark comedy,” Micner explained, “I think there’s a history of Ashkenazi Jews using comedy to look at hard things – the oppression we’ve suffered, displacement, antisemitism, poverty and so on. Holocaust Brunch is certainly engaging with that tradition,” she said. “I think there’s also a history of Ashkenazi humour being self-deprecating – as in, making fun of ourselves – and, one of the things I’ve been interested in, is looking at where that comes from and what it would mean for us not to be the butt of our own jokes. Holocaust Brunch is using comedy to look at communal trauma, and how we might be able to heal from that. The show also uses humour to explore stereotypes and assumptions that some non-Jews have about Jews. I think laughter helps us open up and look at hard places.”
For his part, Zimmerman would like audiences who come to see The Diary of Anne Frank LatinX “to feel like they literally stepped into the shoes of these characters – just like the actors have. Then we can all have this highly emotional and very visceral experience that can only be achieved communally with live theatre.”
Holocaust Brunch runs this weekend in the JCCGV’s Wosk Auditorium, Oct. 27, 1 p.m., and Oct. 28, 7 p.m. The Diary of Anne Frank LatinX, co-presented with Howard Blank of Point Blank Productions, is at the Rothstein Theatre Nov. 6, 8 p.m.; Nov. 7, 8 p.m.; Nov. 8, 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Nov. 9, 2 p.m. For tickets to these and other Chutzpah! shows, visit chutzpahfestival.com.
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.”
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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.
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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.”
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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.
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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.