Family drama Therefore Choose Life, currently on stage in Toronto, has “all the makings of a hit”
If you can find your way through the maze that is the Toronto Centre for the Arts these days and locate the newly opened Greenwin Theatre, you’ll find yourself witness to a very special show. Brush past the half dozen people who will remind you that the show runs 90 minutes with no Intermission. Find your seat. Then take a few deep breaths. The world premiere of Therefore Choose Life, presented by Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company, is not a light show. It is deep and important and lovely, and it will make you feel a whole lot of things.
Written by mother/son team Kathy Kacer and Jake Epstein, the show tells the story of a Jewish family in Toronto in the early 1970s. The father, having relocated and remarried after the war, is a Holocaust survivor who has never fully let go of his first love, who he believes died in a concentration camp. The son is living the responsible life he’s convinced his father wants for him, the life his father wasn’t given the chance to live. The mother concerns herself with the future so that she won’t have to drudge up memories from the past. When a letter arrives, their world is turned upside down, and they find themselves faced with painful decisions and unexpected realities.
It’s heavy stuff. And it is beautifully done.
Scott Penner’s set design is equal only to his costume design, in that both are gorgeous. Greens and yellows, oranges and browns; the colours transport us to the 1970s whilst simultaneously conveying the state of the family.
I was so impressed with the use of the space, the ease with which the actors were able to move between scenes and locations, and the clever design choices. It’s clear that Penner and director Rachel Slaven had a shared vision and worked together with their actors to bring it to life in realistic and highly effective ways.
The set and striking colour palette are complimented by fantastic performances, which is not at all surprising given the stellar cast assembled here. Sheila McCarthy’s Evelyn is sweet, loving and chatty in a delightfully maternal way. Jake Epstein as “Sammy,” her beloved boy, is so energetic, so charming, so connected and emotional it was as if I could feel exactly what his character was feeling in every moment of the show. His ability to navigate his way through countless emotions so poignantly is inspiring. It’s clear the material is close to his heart, and equally clear that he’s put his all into the show, with great success.
Avery Saltzman, who plays Sam’s father and Evelyn’s husband Joseph, is at the centre of the story, and is truly the heart of the show. His performance is heartbreaking and moving, and it’s impossible not to feel for him in the midst of the unimaginable situations he finds himself in. You may not agree with everything his character does, yet you will somehow understand it.
This is a show that will get people talking, and will hit everyone in a slightly different corner of their heart. It deals with very real events of the past, very relatable familial and relational issues, and yet somehow it feels different and fresh and new. I suspect that this won’t be the last chance you’ll have to see it – in fact, I would almost bet money it won’t be, as it has all the makings of a hit – but it is the first. And that is a special and significant thing. So go see the original run of this beautiful show while you can.
- Therefore Choose Life plays until May 10th at The Greenwin Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts (5040 Yonge Street)
- Shows run Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8:00PM, with 1:00PM Wednesday matinees, and two shows on Sundays at 2:00PM and 7:00PM
- Ticket prices range from $38.94 to $62.94 and can be purchased online or by phone at 416-932-9995 ext. 224
Photo of Avery Saltzman and Jake Epstein by Joanna Akyol