The Dentist (Razia Israely) – 2010 Toronto Fringe Review

By Adam Collier

The Dentist is a one-person show that was performed as part of Fringe at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse. A company called Razia Israely produced the show.

There is a level of emotional intensity to some of the events that The Dentist describes – the text of the work (not its delivery) – that made my shoulders hurt and – oddly – feel as though someone were blowing cigarette smoke in my face.

Not more than twenty-minutes into the performance, I felt so much stress that I lost track of what was happening.

I found reconnecting with the work after that point an act of almost sheer will power. Because The Dentist is not – in my experience on Sunday afternoon – exactly a work that pulls-in the viewer as much as a sensational exorcism onstage.

What we witness – hear really; the movements onstage are few and deliberate – is an exploration of, what one might call in popular parlance, the post-traumatic stress of a Holocaust survivor in the context of his family, as told from the perspective of his daughter.

It is not a linear narrative of this experience, but a sequence of flashbacks from a simultaneously moving narrative in daughter’s adult life as her father approaches (then succumbs to) death. On a cerebral level, the structure of the storytelling made sense to me. But on a gut level, I felt like my senses were periodically overloaded and I had to (involuntarily) take breaks from what was going on.

As a consequence, listening to The Dentist was like walking through a photo gallery. I caught sight of most of the images, but in experiencing some I was too worked-up to take-in others.

The Dentist is, in part, a collection of images of domestic life in Europe, in the nineteen-forties and fifties. Some of them have been blown-up to an enormous magnitude. And in those an emotional profile of every subject in the frame, the relationships between them, and the tenor of that time and place in history comes-out in mesmerizing – though not always unambiguous – detail.

In part, The Dentist is also a catalogue of images from the Holocaust. Images– like that of a Nazi soldier having his Jewish internment victims hold a whistle in their mouth as he shoots each in the head – that are so appalling, they challenge (really, defy) comprehension.

Add to that a performance by Razia Israely with her big, unwavering voice and intermittent hand percussion that has the power of a primitive ritual, and I got an experience that resists conveying and summary (this review barely scratches the surface).

After the show, and two rounds of applause, the audience sat still for a few moments. Ms Israely returned to the stage to take questions at that point. One of them was about her return. (“When will you come back?” “To Canada?” “Yes.”) In her reply, Ms Israely said that if and when she returns, she would like to coordinate it with the schools, so that students can receive the benefit of The Dentist. In Israel already, Ms Israely added, students see the show before going to Poland.

My hope is that Ms Israely will return to perform The Dentist as soon as she can.