Karen Kelm, left, and Judith Chertkow-Levy in Like a Fly in Amber, which premièred at the Toronto Fringe Festival. (photo by Victor Dezso)
After seeing Like a Fly in Amber, a musical at the Toronto Fringe Festival, I dreamt of my mother, regretting that I hadn’t spent more time with her, wishing that I had asked and listened to more about her as a person beyond her being my mother.
Karen Kelm, a Vancouver singer and musician, wrote the script and music of Like a Fly in Amber. She also takes on the role of Iris, the 62-year-old daughter of 89-year-old Grace, played by Judith Chertkow-Levy, in this two-person, 80-minute show directed by Susanne de Pencier.
The play revolves around Iris’ writing of a eulogy for her mother while sitting in the attic of the house in which she grew up. She struggles to evoke memories of the person her mother was and to put her personhood into words. The resulting tribute is beautiful.
In the interest of full disclosure, Judy is my sister, the youngest of four daughters of David and Rachelle Chertkow. She was born and raised in Vancouver, then studied opera in Toronto and in London, England. She now lives in San Diego, where she is a cantorial soloist.
Like a Fly in Amber is poignant and moving, evoking memories for all of us who have experienced a parent’s gradual decline. Karen has found the words to describe universal feelings that exist within the daughter-mother relationship. I saw audience members nodding in recognition and chuckling at some of the comments of both mother and daughter. Many families, for example, have a “brother Greg” who can do no wrong, whom we love and resent at the same time.
The music is lovely, melodic with memorable lyrics. I especially like the title song, which expresses the feelings of an old woman who is losing her power, both physical and mental. “On the Wings of an Eagle” moved me to tears as I thought of our mother in her chair in the den and on her hospital bed, expressing her sorrow that she would not see another spring. And I have been humming “Ain’t it Great to be Senile” – funny, in a bittersweet way. I wish you could hear “Pills, Pills, Pills,” a Music Man-type, rapid-fire dialogue between the characters, focused on “keeping regular” – really funny, also in a bittersweet, isn’t-life-a-bitch kind of way.
I loved seeing, as Judy put it, a play about two old broads, written for and acted by two old broads. It was so great to see Judy and Karen perform together, as I recalled their performance in a Fiddler on the Roof production in Vancouver nearly 40 years ago. I closed my eyes and remembered them both young, then opened my eyes to see the beautiful older women they are now.
Both Judy and Karen have wonderful voices and performed their roles with heart and soul. I couldn’t look at Judy, for fear I would break her up, especially when she used expressions of our mother’s or referred to stories I remember. I did laugh out loud when her character, Grace, recounts how she was so angry at a driver who cut her off in traffic that she stuck her tongue out at him.
If you missed the play in Toronto and are unable to see it in the Hamilton Fringe (until July 24), you can hear the music if you visit cdbaby.com.