Review: “My Rabbi” at the Firehall

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The tall, slight Joel Berman, who plays Jake Bernstein, and the short, powerfully built Kayvon Kelly, who plays Arya, provide physical as well as religious contrasts in “My Rabbi”. Based in some respects on the two actors’ real-life friendship, this play, which has recently been at the Edinburgh Fringe, is a tale of friendship and division.

The play opens with a concurrent worship scene by both actors, in their respective religious traditions. I felt a bit uncomfortable here–are these characters who are saying these profound words actually worshipping as they do this, or are the actors acting their worship? What do their religious traditions say about incorporating these scenes into theatre? The scenes are beautiful and atmospheric and moving, if those concerns are kept aside.
Jake and Arya are two friends, from Saskatoon, have lost touch when they spot each other by chance in Toronto. Jake has gone on a path from his secular home to studying in Jerusalem to becoming a rabbi in a suburban Toronto congregation. Arya, of Iranian (make that Persian) and Irish ethnic origins, is struggling, working a bit as a writer, living with his father, helping out at the mosque, but feeling at loose ends.
The play cuts back and forth between vignettes in the two men’s adolescence and young adulthood, with a non-chronological timeline. At one point they bond over objectification of women and beer. Not flattering to the characters, but likely true enough to life.
Aryeh gets pulled into the currents of a force he cannot understand, and struggles. Jake’s humanity and capacity for friendship is tested severely. Yet for both men, normal life keeps happening, in a way that transcends religion. Both struggle with their fathers, and the legacy of their grandfathers. Both have to deal with the death of loved ones.
The play does not feature two symmetrical or parallel characters, but for religion. Some differences between the two characters are outside of religion, and some are because of it.
The play tries hard not to say one person’s beliefs are wrong, and the other’s are right. They want to maintain their friendship, but their principles and perspectives often seem to make that impossible. There’s no final neat resolution to this play, no easy way to embrace plurality and no way to say everyone is right in their own way. Yet, the two want to be friends and want to see each other as human beings.

My Rabbi, Firehall Theatre
October 7th – 18th, 2014
Tues – Sat at 8pm | Sat at 4pm | Sun Matinee 3pm
PWYC Weds at 1pm | Half price Oct 7

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