A play co-created by Joel Bernbaum and Kayvon Kelly
Directed by Julie McIsaac
The Belfry Theatre, Sept. 16-28, 2014
Reviewed by Joy Fisher
When a Jew and a Muslim walk into a bar in My Rabbi, two old friends rediscover each other. But can they revive and maintain their friendship in a time when Palestinians and Israelis are locked in conflict? That’s the central question of the play. Their struggle makes for riveting drama.
Co-created and acted by Joel Bernbaum (Jake) and Kayvon Kelly (Arya), the play races along as it explores the question in a series of short scenes. The two actors capably take on other roles to advance the narrative. In one scene, Bernbaum plays a brutal interrogator; the snap of Arya’s broken finger is audible and convincing. Character changes were clear and convincing, testament to the talent of both of these actors.
The setting is spare—a table, a couple of chairs—a classic set-up for great theatre. And, in this play, that’s exactly what emerges.
My Rabbi is described as a comedic drama, and humour (too often sexist humour) leavens the drama. But I had tears streaming down my face for much of the 60-minute show, as the two characters struggled with increasing difficulty to be supportive of one another as they each faced life’s trials. In a monologue near the end of the play, Jake, by then a rabbi, questions how hate can be resisted in this polarized and polarizing world.
The play offers no easy answers, but the playwrights wisely disrupt the chronology to leave the audience with a glimpse of a happier time. The final scene is a flashback to a moment just before Arya is to leave on a cultural exploration of his father’s homeland, Syria. Jake celebrates with him. They clink drinks and salute each other. “L’Chaim,” they say—to life!
Kelly and Bernbaum, collector and editor of last season’s popular verbatim theatre presentation Home is a Beautiful Word, sketched out a first draft of the scenes in a pub after graduating from the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria in 2008. The characters were initially based on themselves (Bernbaum is of Jewish descent and Kelly, whose last name was formerly Khoskan, Iranian). But the play developed over the next six years into an exploration of what might happen if two formerly non-religious friends embarked on very different journeys of religious discovery in a world where adherents to their respective faiths are locked in mortal combat.
In 2009, the play had its first reading as part of Puente Theatre’s WorkPlay series, and, in 2011, it was featured at the Belfry’s Spark! Festival. The finished work was well-received in its world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August during the height of the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza. The current run at the Belfry is the Canadian premiere. After it closes in Victoria, it will play at Vancouver’s Firehall Arts Centre from Oct. 7-18.
Do yourself a favour and go see this play before it closes in Victoria on Sunday (Sept. 28). You’ll be glad you did.