I saw two great dramas last week, in Toronto: THEREFORE CHOOSE LIFE, written by Kathy Kacer and Jake Epstein, and produced by the HAROLD GREEN JEWISH THEATRE, and CREDITORS, a rarely performed play by August Strindberg, produced by COAL MINE THEATRE. Both productions are sophisticated, intelligent and very, very good.
THEREFORE CHOOSE LIFE is the story of a man confronted with an impossible dilemma. Joseph, (a perceptive and moving performance by Avery Saltzman) is a Holocaust survivor, who relocated to Canada after the war, and married a Canadian, Evelyn (played by a very funny, and then achingly poignant, Shelia McCarthy). He has a career, a home, a grown son. Then, twenty-five years into his second marriage, Joseph receives a letter. His first wife, Chava (the fine Lisa Horner) who he last saw in the camp, and who he thought was long dead, has been looking for him since the end of the war. It's the 1970s and it is now possible for her to leave Russia. She wants them to reunite.
Horner appears, upstage and down, letters in hand, reading in an elegant European accent, and exerting a powerful, yet somehow, almost ghostly presence.
Sam, Joseph's son, (playwright Jake Epstein) hates all of his stories about the war: they literally give him nightmares. Sam's girlfriend Suzanne, (a very charming Amelia Sargisson) is pressuring him to make a decision about their future, and his mother wants grandchildren. Sam, who feels he has been pressured into every decision he's ever made, wants to live in the present.
Epstein gives a very effective, and convincing portrayal of a young man trapped between wanting to please others, and trying to figure out what he actually wants and needs for himself.
I was deeply struck by the universality of Joseph's problem. Can anyone ever go back to an old love and get a happy ending the second time around? What is the right choice in a situation in which, no matter what you choose, someone is going to get hurt?
It's a lovely, thoughtful, well-performed, and well-directed production, in the company's new 260-seat Greenwin Theatre. My friend and I had a lot to talk about after the show.
Meanwhile, over at the Coal Mine Theatre, CREDITORS, one of the best productions of Strindberg I've ever seen, is currently playing.
Two men talk late into the night: Adolph, a sensitive artist, with a delicate physical and emotional constitution, and Gustav, a shrewd and worldly academic, old enough to be his father. They discuss: art, ambition, love, women, a woman; the younger man's beautiful wife. Adolph is highly suggestible: Gustav is articulate, manipulative, masterful, and utterly malevolent.
As Gustav, Hardee T. Lineman commands the stage, and gives a searingly disturbing performance as a devil who has come to collect what he believes is his due.
Noah Reid does fine work in the tricky role of Adolph, carefully constructing a sensitive romantic, without veering into melodrama.
When Tekla, the young man's wife does appear, we realize that Gustav knows a lot more about her than he has let on.
Liisa Repo-Martell, with golden curls and a shimmering gown, plays a great charmer and a great beauty, a woman teetering on the edge of 40, happily ensconced with a younger man, and coming into her own as a writer. The misogynistic Gustav has other plans for her.
Rae Ellen Bodie boils a frog here: getting her actors to ramp up the tension, one degree at a time, until we are immersed in a simmering cauldron of rage, frustrated desire, and sexual jealousy. The set, by Andrea Miller is simple but effective. It's an incendiary production, and absolutely brilliant.
The Coal Mine is a tiny theatre: 77 seats, and the intimacy of the space adds to the impact of the tragedy that unfolds before us.
I highly recommend seeing both of these exceptionally fine productions.
THEREFORE CHOOSE LIFE at the THE TORONTO CENTRE FOR THE ARTS until May 10th with matinees on Sunday. Call (416)932 9995 x224 for tickets. CREDITORS continues nightly at THE COAL MINE THEATRE, Tuesday to Sunday, at 7:30 PM until May 17th. https://ca.brownpapertickets.com/event/1364339