A Glimpse of the Light – Teatron Toronto Jewish Theatre

By Megan Mooney

Okay, I have to admit, when I first read about a musical love story told by Holocaust survivors, I had my doubts. But that didn’t stop me from setting up a date to see A Glimpse of the Light, being produced by Teatron Toronto Jewish Theatre. I did finally remember that musicals don’t have to be all happy, that a musical about the French Revolution, not a particularly happy theme, is probably one of the most popular musicals of all time. That helped. So, by the time I went to the show I wasn’t really trepidations anymore, I was more curious.

My show-partner for this one was j. He’s no stranger to theatre, although generally more from the ‘attending’ than ‘working in’ side of things. He’s also Jewish, which seems like an odd thing to point out, but in this case it is pretty relevant in terms of the discussions we had after the show.

Teatron is a community theatre, so I’ll just talk about community theatres for a second, before going into the production. In community theatre the actors generally have day jobs and acting is their hobby (not to be confused with professional actors who generally have jobs waiting tables…) So, this means a couple things. First, the actors generally (again, a generalization, there are always exceptions) aren’t specifically trained in acting, or at the very least, not *as* trained as their professional counterparts. They also don’t get concentrated rehearsal time in the same way as professional actors (this has it’s benefits and draw backs, there’s something nice about rehearsing a show for 2+ months a couple evenings a week, but there is also something nice about daily intensive rehearsals. You discover things in both.) This means it’s a different kind of performance. Not as polished, but generally filled with a hell of a lot of passion.

So, now, with that, we return to our regularly scheduled review… j and I were both glad we came, we enjoyed it for what it was. That said, j did point out that it felt a bit “earnest”. This is, of course, always the danger of these kinds of plays, ones that deal with heady subjects. It’s easy to slip in to a place where it becomes too much, too one sided, too black and white. One thing that we both really loved though was watching how much the actors were clearly enjoying themselves on stage and were very committed to their performances. Sometimes I just really love watching people on stage who don’t do it for a living, they do it because it’s fun.

That said, like all shows, there were things that didn’t work for us. One that j felt very very strongly about was actually related to costume and make up. At the beginning of the play a group of people are leaving a DP (Displaced Persons) camp and being smuggled onto a ship, and yet they are all perfectly coiffed and in clean fresh looking clothes. He adamantly (and repeatedly, it obviously really bugged him) pointed out that such a thing would be damn near impossible.

My major quibble was around accents. I am a firm believer that in community theatre you should avoid trying to make your actors do accents. Actually, I’m a pretty big believer in this philosophy for professional theatre too, although it’s more likely that someone can pull it off successfully there. Not only does a poorly done accent feel wrong, it also completely takes away from the actors performance. Unfortunately the actor starts focusing on the accent and no the performance. I would have enjoyed the piece more if the actors focused on the characters, not the accents. Other than that the only thing that really bugged me was that there was a song AFTER the curtain call. I think it was set up as an encore, but honestly, it really just didn’t work for me.

Now, this is a musical, so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the music. I think it would be fair to say that it was inconsistent. There were people who seemed very comfortable singing, and others who seemed like maybe they felt a bit out of place. That said, I thought all the ensemble pieces were really lovely. Hit and miss would probably be a good way to describe j’s take on the singing. When I asked him about it he said “there were some moments of singing that a kind director could have cut” and I agree. That said, I get the feeling that the director (Ari Weisberg) was trying to keep ‘true to the text’, which might mean he wouldn’t be willing to cut anything. Overall, there were some very nice moments of music on stage, and Ester Vallins (who played Ester) was a powerhouse singer and a treat to watch.

And now, my apologies to Teatron for not getting this review out earlier. For some reason I had it in my head that the piece was playing until the 29th of November. But apparently it was only playing until the 23rd. So, although you can’t go to this particular piece, I do encourage you to check out The Dybbuk February 25th to March 8th 2009. Just remember that there are no shows on Fridays (Shabbat) or Jewish holidays.

Now that I’ve finished the (apparently very long) review part, I want to talk about some highlights of my conversation with j after the show.

One of the things I love about the format of the reviews I do, where I try to always include the opinions of two people, is that there are some very interesting conversations that take place after the show that cover a ton of different stuff depending on the mood; the show, the topics of the show, memories the show evokes, the really strong perfume of the person in front of you, you know, that kind of thing.

So, in this case j and I had a great conversation about the play and the relevance of it and so on. It’s a conversation that I have no doubt we could have continued for hours if he didn’t have a train to catch. This is where the fact that he’s Jewish becomes relevant.

He questioned whether or not this was a relevant topic anymore. He felt that the show, although filled with reminiscence, didn’t really bring anything new, didn’t tell a story that hasn’t been told a million times. I, on the other hand, felt like I learned some stuff from the show.

In the last couple years I’ve come to realise that although I know loads about the Holocaust and the horrors of concentration camps, as does pretty much everyone else in the west who hasn’t lived under a rock since probably 1955 or so, I know very little about *after*.  So, I like learning about the DP camps and the kibbutzim (yes, I had to look that up, guessing on the plural of kibbutz seemed like a game I couldn’t win), and the illegal traveling on rickety secret refugee ships to Palestine.

I pointed this out to j and he said that it was fair enough, but that the people in that audience (the majority of whom were 60+ and Jewish) all know that story. So, I countered with the idea that maybe it doesn’t bring anything new here, but maybe it would in a different venue. He pointed out that it wasn’t wide-reaching enough to draw big audiences in a place like Theatre Passe Muraille and so on. Initially I argued, saying that I was happy to have been there, but I actually backed down from that position pretty quickly. I did enjoy it, I did enjoy learning, but the piece is SO black and white, so full of ‘good guys and bad guys’ and no nuances.  That alone likely would make it not provide enough interest to fly with an audience without such a personal stake in the subject matter.

I really wish we had more time to talk. He has spent a lot of time in both Israel and Palestine, and I would love to ask him if he went to any theatre being produced there, and how did this compare. And, how he thinks an Israeli audience would react to this piece. And, if he feels this isn’t relevant and isn’t what needs to be made, what is.

This is one of the many joys of theatre for me. You can go to a pretty straight forward, reasonably traditional show, and end up having a really interesting debate about something ranging from world politics to the current state of theatre. It’s no wonder that theatre is one of the driving forces in my life.


Anyway, back to the Teatron production: Don’t forget that there is a production of another show in February – The Dybbuk “THE DYBBUK is a love story of a different kind, where other-worldly forces are at work in a simple village in Eastern Europe. This romantic drama, born in the Yiddish Theatre, has transcended its cultural context to become a classic of modern Jewish Theatre.”

– The Dybbuk
plays at the Leah Posluns Theatre in the Bathurst Jewish Community Centre (4588 Bathurst St.) from February 25 – March 8, 2009.
– Book your tickets before the end of November (you’ve got a few days left) and get 20% off
– To order tickets call 416-781-5527