It is always amazing to get a deeply visceral reaction from experiencing a character who has a life so different from your own.
This is how Sheila McCarthy felt after having agreed to join the cast at the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company for their dramatic reading of Apples from the Desert (written by Savyon Liebrecht and translated by Shir Freibach).
Apples from the Desert is a part of Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation's second annual event, Spotlight on Israeli Culture. It tells the story of a young girl named Rivka who craves independence and freedom from her strict, Orthodox Sephardic Jewish parents. When she discovers her father's plan to arrange her marriage, Rivka runs away from home with a secular Ashkenazi man, much to her parents' disdain.
“It surprised me. I didn't realize the extent (of) the dominating paternal culture that exists,” says McCarthy. “I'm reading the role of mom and she's so repressed, so stuck...how does a woman get to that place?”
“(The) (play) is sort of universal and resonates with today's world as well,” says director David Eisner, who is playing the role of Reuven, Rivka's father.
Eisner says that the father in the play comes from a certain background that augments his feelings and the audience comes to understand him through understanding his past.
“I had to really separate myself, my life, my independence from (my) (character),” says McCarthy. “She married someone who was a product of his own repressed and unstable background.”
Eisner says he believes the play examines religious and cultural segregation but, ultimately, at the end of the play there is some hope at finding a common ground. He says that though this play certainly presents issues that Israelis are dealing with, it has a way of reaching out and resonating with the rest of the world.
"Part of our mandate is to tell the Jewish story and the history of struggle and triumph, (but) to connect our audience to work from Israel is an important part of who we are,” he says.
Aside from their dramatic reading for Spotlight on Israeli Culture, The Harold Green Theatre Company has a few other projects up its sleeve.
The company will soon attain a brand new performance space being built at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, where they will be producing the world premiere of Canadian play Therefore Choose Life, written by mother-son duo Jake Epstein and Kathy Kacer. The play is a love story about a Holocaust survivor who is reunited with her husband after 25 years of being apart.
“It is just beautiful and haunting and funny,” says McCarthy. “I really think it's important that these stories are told because they're true.”
The dramatic reading of Apples from the Desert will be taking place on March 8 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Admission is free. For tickets call 416-932-9995 ext. 224. For more information about the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company, visit www.hgjewishtheatre.com.